US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday defended the Trump administration’s decision to eliminate a top Iranian commander last week, dismissing news reports that the intelligence undergirding the decision was insufficient to justify the controversial strike.
“This was a bad guy; we took him off the playing field,” Pompeo said of Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s Quds Force, in an interview with ABC News.
Soleimani, who died in an American airstrike in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Friday alongside Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, “was the glue, who was conducting active plotting against the United States of America, putting American lives at risk,” he said.
“President Donald Trump made the right decision to stop Qassem Soleimani from the terror campaign that he’d been engaged in against America,” referring to both recent and past attacks against US troops in the region.
NEW: "You said that (Soleimani) was planning an imminent attack against Americans. What evidence can you share?" @GStephanopoulos asks, citing report that intel was "thin."
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) January 5, 2020
On Saturday, The New York Times reported that some US officials had expressed reservations regarding the intelligence used to justify the attack — which was seen across the region as a significant escalation in the ongoing proxy conflict between Washington and Tehran — calling it “thin.”
The Times also reported that while defense officials had included the killing in a list of possible courses of action presented to President Donald Trump for consideration in response to the deteriorating situation in Iraq, nobody believed that he would actually contemplate it.
“Pentagon officials have often offered improbable options to presidents to make other possibilities appear more palatable,” the paper reported.
Asked by ABC to back up his claims that there was danger of an imminent attack against Americans, Pompeo denied the veracity of the Times report and asserted that “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.”
“We reduced risk,” he added.
He also pushed back against Democratic criticisms alleging that Trump did not have the power to authorize the strike, which many critics have alleged is tantamount to a declaration of war, stating that the White House would continue taking action “appropriately, lawfully and constitutionally.”
….targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
President Trump on Sunday threatened to target “52 Iranian sites… some at a very high level & important to Iran,” should Tehran engage in any retaliatory actions.