US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended on Sunday the intelligence assessment that led to a US air strike which killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, saying not taking action would have posed a greater risk, reports Reuters.
Asked about reports indicating that intelligence behind the strike was thin, Pompeo told ABC‘s “This Week” that there was “no skepticism” among senior leaders who had access to all of the intelligence.
“The intelligence assessment made clear that no action – allowing Soleimani to continue his plotting and his planning, his terror campaign – created more risk than taking the action that we took last week,” Pompeo said in the interview.
Soleimani, Iran’s pre-eminent military commander, was killed on Friday in a US drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport, an attack that took long-running hostilities between Washington and Tehran into uncharted territory and raised the spectre of wider conflict in the Middle East.
After Iran threatened retaliation, the US president has issued a stern threat to Iran on Twitter, saying that the US has targeted 52 Iranian sites that it would strike if Iran attacks Americans or US assets in response to the US drone strike that killed Soleimani. He later added that the US will use ‘new’ equipment to strike Iran.
We’ve told the Iranian regime: enough. You can’t get away with using proxy forces and think your homeland will be safe and secure. We’re going to respond against the actual decision-makers – the people who are causing this threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran
Pompeo would not say whether he had been in contact with Iranian officials but said there was no doubt in his mind that Iran “gets clearly the message from the American leadership”.
He defended the US strikes as lawful and said that any future American strikes would also be lawful. The Trump administration would brief Congress again this week on developments, he said.
Possible War Crimes
Trump’s suggestion that the United States could strike targets of importance to Iranian culture raised eyebrows.
Colin Kahl, a former Obama administration national security official, wrote on Twitter that he found it “hard to believe the Pentagon would provide Trump targeting options that include Iranian cultural sites. Trump may not care about the laws of war, but DoD (Department of Defense) planners and lawyers do … and targeting cultural sites is war crime.”
The Pentagon declined to comment on the 52 targets and referred questions to the White House, which did not respond.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who gave Soleimani the country’s highest honor last year, vowed “severe retaliation” in response to his killing. Thousands mourned his death in Iraq, Iran and Gaza.
Qassem Soleimani was the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the mastermind of its regional security strategy. He was killed early Friday near the Baghdad international airport along with senior Iraqi militants in an airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump. The attack has caused regional tensions to soar and tested the US alliance with Iraq. Fearing escalation, NATO has suspended it’s training activities in Iraq, while the British Navy has committed to escort every UK-flagged ship across the Straits of Hormuz.
Showing no signs of seeking to reduce tensions, the US president has since issued a stern threat to Iran on Twitter, saying that the US has targeted 52 Iranian sites that it would strike if Iran attacks Americans or US assets in response to the US drone strike that killed Soleimani. He later added that the US will use ‘new’ equipment to strike Iran.