President Trump decided to kill Soleimani from Mar-a-Lago where his top national security advisers gave him a range of options – and he choose the most dramatic
- President made decision to kill Gen Qassem Soleimani from Mar-a-Lago resort
- Trump was given an array of options for responding to a rocket attack by Iranian-funded group that struck a US-Iraqi base, killing an American contractor
- The president immediately wanted to target Soleimani; it was a decision his predecessors had avoided and one that risked inflaming tensions with Tehran
- Other options were discussed with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and national security adviser Robert O’Brien
- One option included bombing base of group blamed for killing the US contractor
Donald Trump made the decision to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida despite the president’s top national security advisers giving him a range of options.
At the midway point of his annual Christmas vacation, Trump huddled at his resort with his top national security advisers.
Days earlier, a rocket attack by an Iranian-funded group struck a US-Iraqi base, killing an American contractor and wounding several others.
Trump’s advisers presented him with an array of options for responding, including the most dramatic possible response: taking out Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the man responsible for hundreds of Americans deaths.
The president immediately wanted to target Soleimani. It was a decision his predecessors had avoided and one that risked inflaming tensions with Tehran.
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Trump (pictured with First Lady Melania on December 31) made the decision to kill Iranian General Qassem Soleimani from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida despite the president’s top national security advisers giving him a range of options
At the midway point of his annual Christmas vacation (pictured on December 31), Trump huddled at his resort with his top national security advisers
Days earlier, a rocket attack by an Iranian-funded group struck a US-Iraqi base, killing an American contractor and wounding several others. A helicopter carrying Trump returns to Mar-a-Lago on January 3
Some advisers voiced concern about the legal justification for a strike without evidence of an imminent attack in the works against Americans.
So other options were discussed in the coming days with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and national security adviser Robert O’Brien, including bombing the base of the group blamed for killing the US contractor.
But Trump remained focused on the option to target Soleimani, a preference that surprised the small circle of aides because the president had long been reluctant to deepen US military engagement around the world.
By Thursday, officials believed they had intelligence indicating Soleimani was plotting against Americans, though it’s unclear when that intelligence became known to US officials.
Trump slipped out of a meeting with political advisers that day to give the final go-ahead.
His decision to authorize the drone strike has sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East and dramatically escalated tensions between the US and Iran.
It wasn’t the first time that Trump’s lush Mar-a-Lago resort, with its $200,000 annual membership and Atlantic Ocean vistas, had been the backdrop for a momentous national security decision.
In February 2017, Trump huddled on the patio with Japan’s Shinzo Abe, in full view of club members eating dinner, to weigh a response to a North Korean missile test.
Trump’s advisers presented him with an array of options for responding, including the most dramatic possible response: taking out Soleimani (pictured in 2016), the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and the man responsible for hundreds of Americans deaths
Other options were discussed with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left), Defense Secretary Mark Esper (second from left) and national security adviser Robert O’Brien (second from right), including bombing the base of the group blamed for killing the US contractor
Two months later, Trump authorized a US missile strike on Syria, then shared chocolate cake with China’s President Xi Jinping, who was visiting Mar-a-Lago for meetings.
Trump spent much of this vacation angry about the attack on the American contractor.
He stayed largely out of sight in Florida, emerging only for rounds of golf at his other nearby club and mingling with guests at a New Year’s Eve party.
Wearing a tux, Trump was asked by a reporter if he foresaw a chance of war with Iran. Raising his voice to be heard over the holiday revelers, Trump said he wanted ‘to have peace’.
‘And Iran should want peace more than anybody,’ he said. ‘So I don’t see that happening. No, I don’t think Iran would want that to happen. It would go very quickly.’
He betrayed no indication of the momentous decision he was already weighing.
More than a half-dozen administration officials, congressional staffers and advisers close to the White House described Trump’s decision-making.
Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private deliberations.
After Trump leaped at the option to take out Soleimani, national security officials debated about where the targeted strike should happen if they proceeded.
Most did not want to attack Soleimani in Iraq, given the presence of US troops there and the already tenuous situation on the ground.
Some argued for the operation to occur when Soleimani was traveling in Lebanon or Syria.
But when they learned Soleimani would be traveling to Baghdad on January 2, they decided targeting him at the airport was their best opportunity.
Earlier that day, Trump was meeting with his political advisers about his reelection campaign when he was summoned to give the final go-ahead.
Officials believed they had a legal justification and would cite intelligence suggesting that Soleimani was traveling in the Middle East to put final touches on plans for attacks that would have hit US diplomats, soldiers and American facilities in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
Following multiple threats, the Pentagon announced that it will be sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Mideast and some troops are on standby to travel to Beirut if more security is needed at the American Embassy there. Soldiers pictured in Fort Bragg, North Carolina
US Army soldiers with their gear head to an awaiting bus on Saturday at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as troops from the 82nd Airborne are deployed to the Middle East as reinforcements in the volatile aftermath of the killing of Soleimani
The 82nd Airborne Division loads equipment bound for the Middle East on a C-17 Globemaster III Saturday in Fort Bragg
US officials have not been more specific about the intelligence. A congressional aide briefed by the administration on Friday said officials offered compelling details about Iran’s intentions and capabilities, but not about the timing of the supposed attacks on Americans.
The deliberations and Trump’s final decision came quickly enough that in the hours before the attack Thursday night, contingency plans for a potential Iranian response were still being finalized.
The White House communications team was not given a heads-up about the strike, leaving the staff scrambling as news of the explosion spread.
On Sunday, Iranian MP Abolfazl Abutorabi (pictured) threatened to attack the White House in response to Trump’s warning that any strike on American interests in the region will bring massive retaliation
The president told one confidant after the attack that he wanted to deliver a warning to Iran not to mess with American assets.
Trump said he was also eager to project global strength and replicate the message he believed he sent last year after approving the raid to kill Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: the US would find its enemies anywhere in the world.
Still, administration officials acknowledged that Soleimani’s killing carried a high risk of Iranian retaliation.
The Pentagon is sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Mideast and some troops are on standby to travel to Beirut if more security is needed at the American Embassy there.
Hundreds of soldiers deployed Saturday from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Kuwait. A loading ramp was filled with combat gear and restless soldiers. Some tried to grab a last-minute nap on wooden benches.
The wife of a member of the 82nd Airborne who deployed earlier this past week said his departure was so abrupt she didn’t have the chance to say goodbye in person or by phone.
‘The kids kept going, “When’s dad going to be home?”‘ said April Shumard, 42. ‘It’s literally thrown me for a loop. And him as well. He’s still in disbelief of where he´s gone. Our heads are spun.’
Iranian lawmakers chant anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans to protest against the US killing of Iranian top general Qassem Soleimani at the start of an open session of parliament in Tehran, Iran, on Sunday
Soleimani’s body was returned to Iran on Sunday. People are seen carrying his casket upon arrival at Ahvaz International Airport in Tehran. The casket was greeted by chants of ‘Death to America’ as Iran issued new threats of retaliation
As Trump addressed the nation Friday for the first time after Soleimani’s killing, he declared that the Iranian general’s ‘reign of terror was over’.
‘We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,’ he said.
On Sunday, Iran threatened to attack the White House in response to Trump’s warning that any strike on American interests in the region will bring massive retaliation as Iranian leaders brand the president a ‘terrorist in a suit’.
‘We can attack the White House itself, we can respond to them on the American soil. We have the power, and God willing we will respond in an appropriate time,’ said Iranian MP Abolfazl Abutorabi, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency.
Abutorabi went on to say that ‘this is a declaration of war, which means if you hesitate you lose’.
‘When someone declares war do you want to respond to the bullets with flowers? They will shoot you in the head,’ he added.
Following massive funeral marches in Iraq, Soleimani’s body was flown to the city of Ahvaz in southwest Iran on Sunday.
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