MAR-A-LAGO, Fla. (CNN/AP) — President Donald Trump says he authorized a precision strike against the commander of Iran's security and intelligence services because he was plotting "imminent and sinister attacks" on Americans.
"We caught him in the act and terminated him," Trump said Friday, a day after the strike that killed Qasem Soleimani.
Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate that Soleimani should have been taken out by his predecessors and he cast his decision as one of deterrence rather than aggression.
"We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war," Trump said.
The killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, marks a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Iran, which has careened from one crisis to another since President Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and imposed crippling sanctions.
The United States said it was sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Middle East and urged American citizens to leave Iraq “immediately” following the early morning airstrike at Baghdad’s international airport that Iran’s state TV said killed Soleimani and nine others. The State Department said the embassy in Baghdad, which was attacked by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters earlier this week, is closed and all consular services have been suspended.
Around 5,200 American troops are based in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and help in the fight against Islamic State group militants. U.S. embassies also issued a security alert for Americans in Lebanon, Bahrain Kuwait and Nigeria.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds Force.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the killing a “heinous crime” and vowed his country would “take revenge.”