The United States airstrike that killed top Iranian military leader General Qassem Soleimani late Thursday, ordered by President Donald Trump, was carried out to prevent an “imminent attack” by Iran, according to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who added in a Friday interview that the assassination of Soleimani “saved American lives.”
But despite what Pompeo, as quoted by CNN, described as the “imminent” threat, the U.S. appears to have been taking its time carrying out the attack, which was at least three days in the making, according to statements by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in the Senate. The two are also regular golf companions.
“I was briefed about the potential operation when I was down in Florida,” Graham said in a Friday morning interview, quoted by CNN, which also noted that on Tuesday, Graham posted on Twitter saying he “just had a very good meeting” with Trump “regarding the situation in Iraq.”
But Graham was also staying at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort for at least a day prior to Tuesday, and it is not clear that the meeting referred to in Graham’s tweet was the one at which he was “briefed” on plans for the Soleimani assassination operation, leaving open the possibility that Trump told him about it on Monday when the two were spotted playing golf together.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: "We want the world to understand that there was, in fact, an imminent attack taking place." pic.twitter.com/ztC7N6Pswh
— The Hill (@thehill) January 3, 2020
Though the attack may have been planned as far in advance as Monday, Pompeo on Friday said, as seen in the video above, that a Soleimani-led attack on U.S. interest was “taking place” on Thursday, and that the drone strike which killed the top Iranian general was conducted to stop that attack.
“The risk of doing nothing was enormous,” Pompeo said, as quoted by CNN.
The secretary of state said that the U.S. intelligence community made an “assessment” of the threat and that Trump acted “decisively” on that assessment.
But why Trump may have taken as many as four days to order the strike was not made clear from Pompeo’s interview.
The 62-year-old Soleimani was leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force, an elite unit that is believed to be behind Iran’s military operations in the Middle East, mostly carried out through proxies. Pompeo also claimed that the killing of Soleimani left the world “a much safer place.”
Pompeo also said that Americans in the Middle East were made “safer” by the assassination of the Iranian military leader. But on Friday, the U.S. State Department, which Pompeo heads, “urged U.S. citizens to depart Iraq immediately” due to “heightened tensions in Iraq and the region,” as quoted by CNN.