by WorldTribune Staff, January 9, 2020
U.S. intelligence services exposed Iran’s plan to retaliate for the killing of Qasem Soleimani and alerted the White House hours before Iran fired over a dozen missiles at targets in Iraq, reports say.
U.S. military leaders in Iraq were then able to safely evacuate all American personnel, leaving the missiles to strike only empty hangars.
The New York Times reported that, on Tuesday at 2 p.m. an urgent message, sometimes referred to in professional jargon as a “squawk”, was issued. Subsequent warnings of possible Iranian retaliation to the killing of Soleimani came in. The scenarios included missile and rocket launches, attacks against American civilians in the Middle East, and even the possibility that large numbers of militia fighters would attack the Ein al-Assad base in western Iraq.
It was the latter threat that sent Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser Robert O’Brien to the basement situation room in the West Wing in the White House. Shortly thereafter, President Donald Trump arrived after meeting the Greek prime minister.
Three hours later, Iran launched more than 15 ballistic missiles at two Iraqi bases, including Ein al-Assad itself, which houses about 1,000 American troops. The attacks ended without casualties.
“The early warning provided by intelligence helps explain in part why the missiles exacted a negligible toll, destroying only evacuated aircraft hangars as they slammed into the desert sand in barren stretches of the base,” said the NY Times. “No Americans or Iraqis were killed or wounded, and Mr. Trump, who indicated to advisers he would prefer to avoid further engagement, was relieved.”
The top U.S. military officer said on Wednesday that Iran’s missile attack had been intended to kill U.S. personnel as well as cause major damage at the al-Asaad airbase.
“I believe, based on what I saw and what I know, is that (the strikes) were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel. That’s my own personal assessment,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters
The United States told the United Nations on Wednesday that the killing of Soleimani was self-defense and made clear it could take additional action “as necessary” in the Middle East to protect U.S. personnel and interests.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said the United States also stands “ready to engage without preconditions in serious negotiations with Iran, with the goal of preventing further endangerment of international peace and security or escalation by the Iranian regime.”
The killing of Soleimani in Baghdad was justified under Article 51 of the UN Charter, wrote Craft in the letter.
She added that “the United States is prepared to take additional actions in the region as necessary to continue to protect U.S. personnel and interests.”
Under Article 51, countries are required to “immediately report” to the 15-member Security Council any measures taken in exercising the right of self-defense. The United States used Article 51 to justify taking action in Syria against Islamic State militants in 2014.
Pence said on Wednesday the United States has received intelligence that Iran has asked its allied militias not to attack U.S. targets.
“We’re receiving some encouraging intelligence that Iran is sending messages to those very same militias not to move against American targets or civilians, and we hope that that message continues to echo,” Pence said in an interview with CBS News.
Pence also said he believes Americans are “safer today” after Trump ordered the air strike that killed Soleimani.
“I believe we are safer today than before President Trump ordered our military to take out Qasem Soleimani,” Pence said, adding, “the challenge we face now is that Qasem Soleimani was in fact the primary leader of those Iranian sponsored militias across northern Iran and their influence in Syria as well, but we’re sending a very clear message as we did with those five airstrikes to militia bases… that we will not tolerate violence.”