On January 2, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it had killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Qods Force, in a drone strike at Baghdad’s International Airport. The Qods Force is the external operations wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), designated a foreign terrorist organization by Washington. The Pentagon alleged that Soleimani had orchestrated multiple attacks on U.S. forces and allies in late 2019, including a December 27 attack on a coalition base near Kirkuk that killed a U.S. civilian contractor. “This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans,” the Pentagon said.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had warned that the “the game has changed” with respect to Iran and its proxies. Earlier on January 2, he told reporters that the United States “will not accept continued attacks against our personnel and forces in the region.” Esper said that the United States would take “preemptive action” to defend against Iranian plots targeting U.S. interests. “We call on our friends and allies to continue to work together to reduce Iran's destabilizing influence so Iraq is governed by Iraqis without this interference in its internal affairs,” Esper said.
On January 3, the Pentagon announced the deployment of 3,000 additional troops to the region to counter retaliatory action by Iran. The additional personnel from the 82nd Airborne Division would join approximately 750 troops deployed on December 31, following an attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
The following are press statements from the Department of Defense.
Statement by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper
“I am fully confident that the president, the commander in chief, will not give us an illegal order [to strike Iranian cultural sites]. As I said, the United States military will, as it always has, obey the laws of armed conflict."
LIVE: @EsperDoD briefs reporters at the Pentagon. https://t.co/m46689i2wL— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) January 7, 2020
The United States does not seek conflict, but will respond forcefully if necessary. Afghan President @ashrafghani and Pakistani General Bajwa both offered sound counsel and advice in calls today.— Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper (@EsperDoD) January 7, 2020
Pentagon Statement on Troop Deployment
As previously announced, the Immediate Response Force (IRF) brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was alerted to prepare for deployment, and are now being deployed
The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, and will assist in reconstituting the reserve.
Statement by General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
There was “clear, unambiguous intelligence indicating a significant campaign of violence against the United States in the days, weeks and months” ahead.
“We fully comprehend the strategic consequences” associated with killing Qassem Soleimani.
“Is there risk? Damn right, there’s risk. But we’re working to mitigate it.”
Press Statement by the Department of Defense
At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.
General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months - including the attack on December 27th - culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.
This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.
Remarks by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper
Last Friday, the Iranian-backed militia Kata'ib Hizbollah or KH launched yet another attack against American forces in Iraq, resulting in the death of one American civilian, and injuries to four American service members, as well as two of our partners in the Iraqi Security Forces. This continues a string of attacks against bases with U.S. forces and Iraqi Security Forces. KH has a strong linkage to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Quds Force and has received lethal aid, support, and direction from Iran.
Over the last couple of months Iranian-backed Shia militias have repeatedly attacked bases hosting American forces in Iraq. These attacks have injured our partners in the Iraqi Security Forces, but fortunately Americans were not casualties of these attacks until last week. On November 9th, Iranian-backed Shia militias fired rockets at Q-West Air Base located in North-West Iraq. On December 3rd, they conducted a rocket attack against Al Asad Air Base, and on December 5th, they launched rockets against Balad Air Base. Finally, on December 9th, these same militia groups fired rockets at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center located on the Baghdad International Airport. It is clear that these attacks are being directed by the Iranian regime, specifically IRGC leadership.
In response, U.S. leaders have repeatedly warned the Iranians and their Shia militia proxies against further provocative actions. At the same time, we have urged the Iraqi government to take all necessary steps to protect American forces in their country. I personally have spoken to Iraqi leadership multiple times over recent months, urging them to do more.
After the attack last Friday, at the direction of the President, U.S. forces launched defensive strikes against KH forces in Iraq and Syria. These attacks were aimed at reducing KH's ability to launch additional attacks against U.S. personnel and to make it clear to Iran and Iranian-backed militias that the United States will not hesitate to defend our forces in the region.
On Tuesday, December 31st, at the instigation of Shia militias, violent rallies of members of these militias outside the American embassy in Baghdad resulted in damage to exterior entry facilities and buildings at the embassy compound. We know it was Iranian-backed Shia militias because key leaders were spotted in the crowd and some militia members showed up wearing their uniforms and carried the flags of their militia, including KH. We continue to urge the Iraqi government to prevent further escalation. Leaders of the Iraqi government have condemned the attack on the U.S. embassy, including the Iraqi president, prime minister, foreign minister, and speaker of the parliament. Additionally, regional and international partners have condemned the attacks on U.S. facilities, including Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain in the region, and the E.U., Germany, France, and others around the globe.
On Tuesday, to ensure the security of the Americans at the embassy in Baghdad, we immediately deployed Marines from Kuwait who arrived at the embassy in a matter of hours. We also deployed a battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division to ensure that we can provide additional defensive support to the embassy in Baghdad or elsewhere in the region as needed.
Let me speak directly to Iran and to our partners and allies. To Iran and its proxy militias: we will not accept continued attacks against our personnel and forces in the region. Attacks against us will be met with responses in the time, manner, and place of our choosing. We urge the Iranian regime to end their malign activities.
To our partners and allies: we must stand together against the malign and destabilizing actions of Iran. The 81 nations and member organizations of the Defeat ISIS Coalition are in Iraq and Syria, and cooperating around the globe to defeat ISIS. We have worked closely with our partners in the Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces to roll-back the so-called ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria and liberated millions of Iraqis and Syrians. NATO nations are also in Iraq to assist with building the capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces. Unlike the Iranians who continue to meddle in Iraq's internal affairs and seek to use corruption to further Tehran's malign influence, the United States and our allies are committed to an independent, stable, secure, and sovereign democratic Iraq that addresses the aspirations and needs of the Iraqi people, who we see protesting for these very things and objecting to Iran's malign influence. We call on our friends and allies to continue to work together to reduce Iran's destabilizing influence so Iraq is governed by Iraqis without this interference in its internal affairs.