Washington: US President Donald Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards commander General Qasem Soleimani was designed to prevent further bloodshed and was defensive in nature, his National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has said.
O’Brien alleged that Soleimani, who was travelling around the Middle East, had just come to Iraq from Damascus where he was planning attacks on American soldiers, airmen, marines, sailors and American diplomats.
Soleimani, 62, the head of Iran’s elite al-Quds force and architect of its regional security apparatus, was killed when a drone fired missiles into a convoy that was leaving the Baghdad International Airport early on Friday. The strike also killed the deputy chief of Iraq’s powerful Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary force and some local Iran-backed militias.
He was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran behind the Ayatollah Khamenei. His Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, reported directly to the Ayatollah and he was hailed as a heroic national figure.
Iran has pledged retaliation.
US National Security Advisor O’Brien, commenting on the killing, said: “This was designed to prevent further bloodshed. This was a defensive action”.
“This strike was aimed at disrupting ongoing attacks that were being planned by Soleimani, and deterring future Iranian attacks, through their proxies or through the IRGC Quds Force directly, against Americans,” he said, referring to President Trump’s remarks that the action was taken to stop a war, not to start a war.
“President Trump has been very clear he’s offered to talk without preconditions, at any time, with Iran. He continues to seek a peaceful resolution with Iran. Unfortunately, those efforts by the President have been rebuffed,” he said.
Alleging that Soleimani has a long history of attacking Americans, O’Brien said at least 600 Americans were killed in improvised explosive device blasts that were used in Iraq on a regular basis, and there were many more Americans that were maimed, losing arms, legs, their limbs because of his activities.
“He’s also been involved in activities such as supporting the Assad regime and their brutal efforts in Syria, which has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in Syria, and in putting down the protests in Iran at the cost of countless — probably over a thousand lives of Iranian citizens,” the National Security Advisor said.
The most notable example of his activities in the past couple of weeks was the attack on the K-1 Air Base on December 27th which resulted in the loss of life of one American contractor and the injury to four of the US service men and women, he said.
“This was something that the President felt was necessary to do. The President exercised America’s clear and inherent right of self-defence to counter this threat. It was a fully authorised action under the 2002 AUMF and was consistent with his constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief to defend our nation and our forces against attacks like those that Soleimani has directed in the past and was plotting now,” O’Brien said.
Responding to a question, he said Iran has two choices and one is further escalation.
“Pursuing that path will lead to nowhere for the Iranian people or for the regime. And the United States will not be intimidated by threats from our adversaries,” O’Brien said.
The Trump administration, he said, has made it very clear that should Iran retaliate or escalate, that would be a very poor decision.
“This was us disrupting a plot that their leadership was well aware of, that Soleimani was involved with. They know what they were up to. We had the right to self-defence; they understand that. If they choose to escalate, that would be a very poor decision… for the Iranian regime.
“The alternate path is to sit down with the United States, to give up its nuclear program, to stop its regional escapades and proxy wars in the Middle East, to stop taking hostages and to behave like a normal nation that’s part of the community of nations,” O’Brien said.
In that case, as the President said, Iran has a fabulous future, a terrific future for the Iranian people, he said, adding that they’re hardworking, smart and innovative people and there’s no reason that Iran shouldn’t be a great country.
“But it will not be if it continues down the path of war and terrorism and its nuclear program,” he said.
O’Brien said that once the President had that information and the national security principals were aware of that information, that was a very straightforward decision for the President to make the call on this.
“But it did take place ahead of the attack, the President was kept apprised on an ongoing basis of how the operation was proceeding and was informed of the operation on a very regular basis and very shortly after it was concluded,” he added.