Trump, alongside his top national security advisers and military chiefs, justified the killing of the 62-year-old as an act to stop a “significant campaign of violence” against Americans in the region.
News of Soleimani’s death was divisive, prompting both celebration and backlash in both the U.S. and abroad, with some touting the Iranian general’s death as long overdue, while others condemned the strike as an unjustified killing that could escalate the already heightened U.S.-Iran tensions into a full-blown conflict.
Wait, There’s More: The aftermath of the killing of Qassem Soleimani
Trump’s rationale for the Iranian’s killing — an order to stop an “imminent” attack based on U.S. intelligence — is one that is echoed by most of his top chiefs of staff and military advisers, but critics have questioned how urgent the attack on Soleimani really was.
Here’s what we know so far about the intelligence gathered on Soleimani’s planned attacks.
In a statement released by the White House Friday, Trump claimed that Soleimani was plotting “imminent and sinister” attacks on American diplomats and military personnel throughout the region.
He, alongside top U.S. general Mark Milley, attributed attacks on American targets in Iraq to Soleimani — which included the recent rocket strikes that killed a U.S. contractor and injured several more in northern Iraq, as well as the assault on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Milley cited “compelling” intelligence that Soleimani was in the midst of orchestrating a “significant campaign of violence.”
When asked on how pressing Soleimani’s attacks were, he defined them as potentially weeks or even days away from execution.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke late Friday, telling Fox News that “hundreds or thousands of Americans” could have been killed by an attack if Soleimani hadn’t been taken down in the strike.
He also said that the U.S. strike had potentially saved European lives, but did not add any more details aside from expressing irritation at America’s allies in Europe for not being as understanding or as “helpful as I wish that they could be.”
As of now, the U.S. has not released any further evidence on the specifics surrounding Soleimani’s planned attacks, which has especially raised some questions surrounding the Trump administration’s use of the word “imminent” to justify carrying out the airstrike.
“I believe there was a threat, but the question of how imminent is still one I want answered,” said Sen. Mark Warner, vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
According to a senior administration official that spoke with CNN, Trump had made the decision to target Soleimani only within the last couple of days.
The unnamed official said that specific intelligence had just come in that Iranians were working against the U.S., and that “Soleimani was in the region to pull together those last strings to activate.”
Another two sources cited by CNN said that the decision was made only after Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Pompeo flew to Mar-a-Lago Sunday to inform Trump of intelligence pointing to multiple threats, as well as Soleimani’s movement.
White House lawyers then concluded that the targeted killing of Soleimani would not lead to war and that the president and his administration did not feel the “need to ask for authorization” from Congress over what they deemed as an act of self-defence, said the White House official.
Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force — the special operations and intelligence gathering division of the Iranian army — was the mastermind behind the country’s multiple proxy wars across the Middle East.
He was deemed responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq, as well for providing fighters to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to continue fighting his country’s civil war — a conflict that has been estimated to have killed as many as 500,000 and displaced about 12 million more.
— With files from Reuters