According to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), the country's state-run news outlet, Iran fired "tens of ground-to-ground missiles" at the base and claimed responsibility for the attacks. The attacks unfolded in two waves, each about an hour apart. The Pentagon said these bases were on high alert after signs of the Iranian government were planning attacks on U.S. forces. Although the Pentagon disputes the number launched, it has confirmed that both the Ayn al-Asad and the Erbil airbases were hit by Iranian missiles. A military spokesman for U.S. Central Command said a total of 15 missiles were fired. Ten hit the Ayn al-Asad airbase, one hit the Erbil base, and four missiles failed. Other sources confirmed that two ballistic missiles targeted Erbil: one hit Erbil International Airport and did not explode, the other landed about 20 miles (32 km) west of Erbil. On 8 January Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman said the Kingdom would stand with Iraq and do everything in its power to spare it from the "danger of war and conflict between external parties".
In October 2007, the Bush administration was the first to designate Soleimani a terrorist on the basis of his involvement with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Quds Force, and the increasing recognition of the role they played in the Iraq conflict. According to an interview with a PolitiFact journalist, retired Army Col. Frank Sobchak, said that around the same time U.S. special forces had planned for his capture, but the mission was not approved by senior officials. He said, "Individuals that we talked to in senior positions of the U.S. government told us that with support for the war at an all time low in 2007, the Bush administration recognized the importance of Soleimani to the war, but was not willing to risk the political capital and repercussions that could occur from expanding the war to that level."More Info
On the day of the strike, U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo asserted the attack was ordered by Trump to disrupt an "imminent attack" by Soleimani operatives, although subsequent reports on that rationale were mixed. On 9 January, Trump said "We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy. We also did it for other reasons that were very obvious. Somebody died, one of our military people died. People were badly wounded just a week before." On 10 January, Trump claimed that Soleimani had been planning attacks on four U.S. embassies in the Middle East. Afterwards several members of Congress, including Mike Lee and Chris Murphy, claimed that the Trump administration had not informed them of this in the intelligence briefing on the strike. Three days after Trump's remarks, Defense Secretary Mark Esper clarified that, although "there was evidence" of a plot against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the president "didn't cite intelligence" about the other three embassies he mentioned, and that the president instead shared his belief that there "probably could have been" a plot against those embassies.More Info
The modern Middle East has seen a number of occasions in which the assassination of high-level government and military figures was attempted, or at least considered. Such instances include United States air raids targeting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 1986 and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1991, 1998, and 2003, in addition to successful missions to kill non-state terrorist leaders such as Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Governments conducting assassinations of foreign leaders was largely frowned upon in prior centuries, but that norm has been weakening over time, especially since World War II. The effectiveness of anti-terrorist "leadership targeting" has become a subject of scholarly debate, especially with regard to whether such killings are actually beneficial to a country's foreign policy goals. In the wake of the strike against Soleimani, both the topic of further eroding norms and questions regarding effectiveness were raised. The costs and benefits of foreign policy assassinations are difficult to compute, and decisions to go ahead with such actions often reflect the vague, and not always realized, hope that any successor to the targeted person will be less capable against, or will embody policies more favorable toward, the country taking the action.More Info
The strike occurred during the 2019–20 Persian Gulf crisis, which began after the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in 2018, reimposed sanctions, and accused Iranian elements of fomenting a campaign to harass U.S. forces in the region. On 27 December 2019, the K-1 Air Base in Iraq, which hosts Iraqi and U.S. personnel, was attacked, killing an American contractor. The U.S. responded by launching airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, killing 25 Kata'ib Hezbollah militiamen. Days later, Shia militiamen and their supporters retaliated by attacking the U.S. embassy in the Green Zone.More Info
Soleimani's killing sharply escalated tensions between the U.S. and Iran and stoked fears of a military conflict. Iranian leaders vowed revenge, while U.S. officials said they would preemptively attack any Iran-backed paramilitary groups in Iraq that they perceived as a threat. Many in the international community reacted with concern and issued statements or declarations urging restraint and diplomacy. Five days after the airstrike, Iran launched a series of missile attacks on U.S. forces based in Iraq, the first direct engagement between Iran and the U.S. since the naval battle precipitating the Vincennes incident on 3 July 1988. Following the shootdown of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 amidst the escalation, leaders from both countries seemed reluctant to further escalate the crisis.More Info
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