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Trump Ordered an Attack on Iran, but Called Off the Operation at the Last Minute
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=51021"><span class="small">Erin Cunningham, Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Friday, 21 June 2019 08:27

Excerpt: "President Trump ordered an attack on Iran on Thursday in retaliation for the downing of a surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz but called the operation off just hours before it was due to occur because it would have caused extensive casualties, he said Friday."

Trump called off a strike on Iran with planes in the air and ships ready to fire. (photo: AFP)
Trump called off a strike on Iran with planes in the air and ships ready to fire. (photo: AFP)

Trump Ordered an Attack on Iran, but Called Off the Operation at the Last Minute

By Erin Cunningham, Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe, The Washington Post

21 June 19


resident Trump ordered an attack on Iran on Thursday in retaliation for the downing of a surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz but called the operation off just before it was due to occur because it would have caused extensive casualties, he said Friday.

In a series of morning tweets, Trump said he called off strikes on three Iranian sites minutes before they were to be launched because he was informed of the likely loss of life among Iranians.

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die,” Trump tweeted. “150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it.”

Such a death toll was “not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone,” Trump wrote, adding: “I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”

Trump’s Friday morning tweets appeared to gloss over the fact that he was the one, as commander in chief, who had ordered the retaliation against Iran in the first place.

Iran said Friday the United States had “no justification” for a retaliatory strike and vowed to respond “firmly” to any U.S. military action. 

Trump administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive national security decisions, said the president approved the strikes after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps earlier in the day shot down a Navy RQ-4 Global Hawk operating off Iran’s southern coast, a move Trump described as a “very big mistake.”

But he later changed his mind, the officials said. The decision was first reported by the New York Times. 

The commander of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace division said Friday that Iran had sent “warnings” to the drone before shooting it down. In an interview with Iran’s state-controlled broadcaster, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh said a final warning was sent at 3:55 a.m. local time Thursday.

“When it did not redirect its route and continued flying toward and into our territory, we had to shoot it at 4:05 a.m.,” he said. “Our national security is a red line.” 

He also said that a U.S. P-8 patrol aircraft, with 35 people on board, had accompanied the drone into Iranian airspace. His claim could not immediately be verified.

“We could have downed it, too,” Hajizadeh said of the plane, the Fars News Agency reported. “But we did not do it.”

Iranian state television Friday published images that it said showed pieces of the drone recovered from the debris field. The photographs, which showed large fragments of what appeared to be an aircraft, could not be independently authenticated. 

Iranian officials told the Reuters news agency Friday that Tehran received a message from Trump through Oman overnight warning that a U.S. attack was imminent.

“Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues,” Reuters quoted one official as saying. “He gave a short period of time to get our response.” The official added that it was up to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to decide whether to respond.

Iran’s permanent mission to the United Nations did not immediately reply to request for comment.

The Federal Aviation Administration late Thursday barred U.S.-registered aircraft from operating over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, due to an increase in military activities and political tensions that it said might “place commercial flights at risk.” 

Several U.S. and international carriers said that they had either canceled flights over Iranian airspace or were taking steps to avoid the Strait of Hormuz. 

The aborted operation to strike Iran capped a day in which news of the drone’s downing heaped fuel on already heightened fears that the United States and Iran were on a course toward a military conflict as each side blamed the other for the incident.

Tehran and Washington gave conflicting accounts of what occurred when the drone with an airliner’s wingspan crashed into the sea. While Iran said the aircraft had entered its airspace, the U.S. Central Command denied that assertion, characterizing the incident as an “unprovoked attack” over one of the world’s most important commercial waterways.

In remarks alongside visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House, Trump condemned the shoot-down but also appeared to tamp down speculation that a counterstrike might be in the works, saying the drone may have been shot down without the knowledge of Iranian leaders.

“I’m not just talking about the country made a mistake. I’m talking about somebody under the command of that country made a mistake,” Trump said at the White House. “I find it hard to believe it was intentional” on the part of Iran’s top officials, the president said.

Trump was noncommittal about a U.S. counterattack. “Let’s see what happens,” he said. “This is a new fly in the ointment — what happened, shooting down the drone — and this country will not stand for it.”

But he also noted that the aircraft was unmanned. “There was no man or woman in it,” he said. “It would have made a big difference” if a plane carrying people had been shot down. “It would have made a big, big difference.”

The White House invited a bipartisan group of top congressional leaders to a meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the situation.

Among those invited were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the chairmen and ranking minority party members of the House and Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees.

“We had a good briefing,” McConnell said, adding that he could confirm that an unmanned aerial vehicle “was fired on from Iranian soil and it was in international waters. And beyond that I think the administration is engaged in what I would call measured responses.”

Schumer said he cautioned that “these conflicts have a way of escalating.”

“The president may not intend to go to war here, but we’re worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war,” he said. “One of the best ways to avoid bumbling into war, a war that nobody wants, is to have a robust open debate and for Congress to have a real say. We learned that lesson in the run-up to Iraq” in 2003.

After the White House meeting, Pelosi held a closed-door session with Democratic lawmakers to brief them on the developments. “We know that the high-tension wires are up there, and we must do everything we can not to escalate the situation, but also to make sure that our personnel in the region are safe,” she said.

Thursday’s strike followed a number of recent incidents, including attacks on oil tankers, that American officials have depicted as part of an Iranian effort to hurt the United States and its allies in the region. The United States has continued its “maximum pressure” campaign against a country the Trump administration has identified as its main adversary in the Middle East.

Tehran has responded with defiance to the campaign, which was launched after Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and has included designating the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group and taking steps to cut off Iranian oil sales.

On Thursday, the European Union said officials from Germany, Britain, France, Russia, China and Iran would meet next week to discuss strategies to salvage the nuclear pact despite renewed U.S. sanctions and Tehran’s threat to exceed limits on its uranium stockpiles.

Saudi Arabia’s deputy defense minister said Friday on Twitter that he met with Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, in Riyadh “to explore the latest efforts to counter hostile Iranian acts.”

The Revolutionary Guard’s top commander, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, called the downing of the drone “a clear message to America.”

“Our borders are Iran’s red line, and we will react strongly against any aggression,” Salami said in remarks carried by Iranian state television. “Iran is not seeking war with any country, but we are fully prepared to defend Iran.”

Nearly a quarter of the world’s traded oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, which connects Middle East energy producers to markets around the globe.

Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, head of U.S. air forces in the Middle East, told reporters at the Pentagon that the Global Hawk was flying at high altitude in the vicinity of recent tanker attacks and was not at any time any closer than 21 miles to the nearest point on Iran’s coast.

Guastella said the aircraft did not leave international airspace and was brought down by a Republican Guard surface-to-air missile fired from an area close to Goruk, Iran.

“This dangerous and escalatory attack was irresponsible and occurred in the vicinity of established air corridors between Dubai, UAE, and Muscat, Oman, possibly endangering innocent civilians,” he said. Guastella did not take questions, and the Pentagon did not make anyone else available to discuss the tensions.

The Global Hawk incident occurred the week after two tankers, one Japanese and one Norwegian, were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. The Trump administration has blamed Iran for both incidents, at least one of which is said to have been carried out by use of limpet mine similar to devices previously displayed at Iranian military parades. Iran has denied involvement, calling the accusation “a lie.”

The tanker incidents were similar to an attack on a tanker off the United Arab Emirates in May. The U.S. military also accused Iran of firing a modified SA-7 surface-to-air missile at an MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Gulf of Oman as it surveilled the attack on the Japanese ship.

Also this month, Centcom said Houthi rebels shot down an MQ-9 over Yemen using an SA-6 surface-to-air missile in an attack that “was enabled by Iranian assistance.”

The latest incident came just days before acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan was due to step down. Shanahan, who this week withdrew from his confirmation process after news media, including The Washington Post, published reports about past family strife, is handing responsibility for the military to Mark Esper, who now serves as Army secretary.

It is unclear how the turnover at the top of the Pentagon will affect an internal debate about how to respond to what officials say is an attempt to strike American interests. Some defense officials have voiced concerns that officials led by national security adviser John Bolton, who has publicly advocated regime change in Iran in the past, may be creating conditions in which war is inevitable.

Trump has previously authorized targeted strikes in the Middle East, including on government-controlled air bases in Syria. He was elected in 2016 promising to end American involvement in conflicts in the region. 

At the same time, the Pentagon remains concerned about the potential for Iranian attacks on U.S. military personnel, especially those stationed in Iraq. During a visit to Baghdad last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to relay a message for Iranian leaders that even one American death would result in a U.S. counterattack.

Trump appeared to tamp down the likelihood of an immediate military response as he highlighted the fact that the Global Hawk was unmanned. “We had nobody in the drone,” he said. “It would have made a big difference, let me tell you.”

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted, “When it comes to the Middle East, there are seldom good choices.”

“But in some instances, failing to act can prove to be the most dangerous choice of all,” he said.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said U.S. naval assets were trying to recover pieces of the drone.

The strike on the RQ-4 is much more significant than the recent attacks on Reapers. Each Global Hawk, which has a wingspan of 131 feet, is worth more than $100 million and is packed with sensors and able to fly at altitudes of more than 55,000 feet to observe broad areas for periods that can stretch longer than a day.

The Global Hawk downed on Thursday was an older “demonstrator” model, according to another U.S. official, that had been transferred from the Air Force to the Navy to carry out a mission known as Broad Area Maritime Surveillance. The Pentagon has since begun testing a newer cousin, the MQ-4C Triton. Neither version carries weapons.

According to a Republican Guard statement, the U.S. drone took off from a base in the “southern Persian Gulf” and was heading toward Iran’s Chabahar port “in full secrecy, violating the rules of international aviation.”

“While returning to the western Hormuz Strait’s region, the drone violated Iran’s airspace and engaged in information-gathering and spying,” the statement said.

At its narrowest, the Strait of Hormuz is just 21 nautical miles wide, and ships passing through it must enter the territorial waters of Iran and Oman. Under the rule of the shah in 1959, Iran extended its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles and declared that it would recognize only “innocent passage” through the area, essentially excluding warships engaging in activities deemed hostile. Oman also claimed a 12-mile territorial limit in 1972 and later demanded that foreign warships obtain permission to pass through its waters.

The United States does not recognize any restrictions on transit through the strait.

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+12 # sirimada 2019-06-21 09:09
The only reason we are in this situation with Iran is because Obama embarrassed the orange ignoramus at the 2014 or 2015 White House Correspondence Dinner and being the thin-skinned egotist that he is, he is determined to destroy everything that Obama put in place - thus the destruction of the Iran agreement. Now of course he is in over his head and given his inability to ever admit to any wrongs on his part, will just keep digging deeper into this hole he has created. Of course the MIC will be happy about all this in the end!
+7 # economagic 2019-06-21 14:16
That may have been a contributing factor, but the Orange Ignoramus appointed as his advisors as many of the original cabal of neoCONS from 30 years ago as were still alive and willing, plus several of those George II had brought to prominence. During Gulf War I (1991) their song was, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. REAL men want to go to Tehran."

The US has had it in for Iran since the early days of the CIA, which aided by UK MI6, staged its first regime change (against a democratically elected prime minister) and re-empowered the Shah (with his brutal secret police) who had been sidelined by the popular minister. "Surprisingly," the cause of that action was the nationalization of British oil interests in Iran by the populist minister.

The Iranis had not forgotten that 25 years later when President Carter welcomed the Shah to the US for cancer treatment (too little too late), leaving the US Embassy in Tehran lightly defended. Without the Shah behind them, the secret police stood by as angry Iranis stormed the embassy and took 52 US diplomats and civilians hostage for 444 days.

The bullies and badasses have never forgotten THAT (how DARE they take our people hostage?), and have been spoiling for war on Iran ever since, regardless of the costs, especially to others.
+5 # 1dfnslblty 2019-06-21 10:46
"Last minute" stoppage sounds and looks like a V.Putin call from him got to potus' ear.
R.Reich calls it correctly as potus plays its audience like a musical instrument instrument.
potus is is a twenty-fifth amendment candidate.
+5 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-06-21 12:54
If it was a call from V. Putin, then it was the right call. Who cares who advised Trump, he did the right thing is stopping the war-mad neo-cons from killing innocent people in Iran. Trump is unique in being the only president in decades who has refrained from killing people of course he has killed plenty in Syria, but for once he made the right decision.

I think progressives should congratulate Trump for calling off the mass murder of innocent people. What do progressives want? More war? That's not progressive. That is neo-con.
-1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-06-22 05:10
Now I'm reading that it was a call from Tucker Carlson that persuaded Trump to call of the bombing raids. So who is worse -- Tucker or Vladimir? I'm sure Rachel Maddow is going into hysterics over this dilemma. She's got Tucker on one hand and Putin on the other. Her poor little brain is caught in the middle of two evils.

I am reminded of the story told by Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval theologian. He was trying to demonstrate the difference between how a jackass thinks and how a human thinks. He said, if you place a jackass in the middle of a bridge and a bale of very tasty hay on either end of the bridge, the jackass will starve to death because it cannot decide which bale of hay to eat first. Two equal good or equal evils is a dilemma impossible for non-rational people to decide. So what about Rachel -- she's got Tucker on on hand and Putin on the other. Will she starve to death like the poor jackass?
+7 # Citizen Mike 2019-06-21 10:59
I am amazed that Trump passed up an opportunity to do maximum cruelty, which is the defining Republican operating principle. he could have killed 150 ragheads. Is he drifting away from his warmonger supporters? That might be a sign of his advancing senility.
+4 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-06-21 13:16
Clearly this drone was intended as a provocation. And it worked. Iran did respond. I don't think anyone in the world believes the Pentagon spokesman who says that the drone was more than 21 miles from the Iranian coast. 20 miles is the border line. Everyone knows the US military lies every time some event like this occurs. Officially the Pentagon still says the massacre at My Lai did not occur.

Iran has a right to defend itself. It did the right thing. Iran has watched the US respond to N. Korea and to Iraq. N. Korea never backed down an inch to US provocations and the US did not bomb. Iraq back down everywhere, even allowing Us inspectors to tag all of its strategic sites for bombing. Iraq got the "shock and awe" treatment.

Iran is right never to back down. If Iran shows any weakness, bully America will bomb it into the stone age, killing millions of people.

Trump did the right thing stopping the psychopath murderers at the Pentagon. I hope he understands the truth of his decision. The murderous neo-cons will try to kill again. They can't help it. That is what they do.

In the 2016 election, Trump ran to the left of Hillary on war and probably that was significant his he victory. Now a lot of democrats are calling for bombing as if they are running to the right of Trump. Demos never seem to miss a chance to lose an election. Let's see how this plays at the debate next week. Who will be to the right of Trump and who will be to the left on the side of peace.
+4 # margpark 2019-06-21 15:49
If Trump called it off because 150 lives were too much for a battered drone which is certainly true and congratulations , Sir, for recognizing it. I do however, wonder if he had a phone call from Putin before making that decision.
+3 # economagic 2019-06-21 21:29
It appears that he did obtain some "intelligence" not of his own making. But regardless of the reason, backing off was a brilliant propaganda coup, portraying him as humane and even empathetic, which as a narcissist he is not.
+6 # jcdav 2019-06-21 18:37
John Cooper
Was this another bluff? Stagecraft? What kind of leader would have allowed a plan of this magnitude/conse quence to go that far--- or be that indecisive? Or did he just want to watch it unfold for his own ego gratification or perhaps to get US used to the idea he could cause a war? Think about it.
+6 # lfeuille 2019-06-21 22:38
I suspect the whole thing was stage from the beginning. He thinks stopping an illegal attack after he oked it makes him look reasonable but a reasonable person would not have ordered the planes into the air in the first place. A reasonable person would never have pulled out of the Iran agreement.
+7 # ktony 2019-06-22 05:26
Trump used a deliberately created incident to cast himself as a hero for stopping an unfounded retaliation. This is just another bit of narcissism, like so many others.