WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Friday morning that the US military had been “cocked and loaded” for a strike against Iran on Thursday night, but that he called it off with 10 minutes to spare when a general told him that 150 people would likely die in the attack.
The president said in a series of tweets just after 9 am that he was prepared to retaliate against three sites in Iran for that country’s shooting down a US drone, but that he was “in no hurry.” He indicated that the death of 150 Iranians would not be “proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
It was unclear why Trump would have been getting information about possible casualties so late in the process of launching military action. Such information is typically discussed early in the deliberations between a president and national security officials.
Trump called Iran a “much weakened nation” because he decided to withdraw from the nuclear agreement negotiated by his predecessor. He also suggested that new sanctions had been imposed on Iran on Thursday night, but he did not elaborate. “Sanctions are biting & more added last night,” he tweeted. “Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”
The president’s decision to abort the strikes in favor of increased pressure on Iran through sanctions is in line with the advice he has received from some of his top advisers about the effectiveness of choking off Iran’s access to the globe’s financial networks.
During deliberations about the strikes in the Situation Room on Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued that sanctions were having a powerful effect by slashing Iran’s revenues from the sale of oil, according to a senior administration official familiar with the discussion. Trump’s tweets on Friday suggested that Pompeo’s arguments may have influenced his decision.
Administration officials, including military commanders, did not issue public statements Friday morning to clarify the internal deliberations or the president’s actions.
The dispute over the location of the drone when Iran shot it down Thursday morning continued for a second day. Iran’s government released photographs Friday morning of what it said were fragments of the high-altitude surveillance drone, saying that the pieces were retrieved from Iranian territorial waters. Iran has insisted it shot the drone down after it violated the country’s airspace.
To bolster its claims, Iran late Thursday released video of what it said was the moment its air defense system shot down the drone.
The Defense Department countered with images of the drone’s flight path showing that it never entered Iranian airspace, though the images offered little context for an image that appeared to be the drone exploding in midair.
Still, there remained doubt inside the US government over whether the drone, or another US surveillance aircraft, this one flown by a military aircrew, did violate Iranian airspace at some point, according to a senior administration official. The official said the doubt was one of the reasons Trump called off the strike — which could under international norms be viewed as an act of war.
Donald Trump approves strikes on Iran, but then abruptly pulls back – Economic Times