- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2020

Military commanders had standing authority from President Trump to kill Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Quds force leader who was one of the most powerful figures in Iran’s regime, a senior Pentagon official said Friday.

U.S. officials said Soleimani was directly responsible for the recent wave of action against U.S. military personnel and interests, including the attacks against the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

On Thursday, he was observed in a convoy of vehicles leaving Baghdad’s international airport. That’s when the military had the green light to act.

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“He arrived at the airport and we had the opportunity. Based on the president’s direction, we took it,” the senior Defense Department official said. “We had the authority before the strike to take the action.”

Officials said Soleimani had been planning more attacks on American diplomats and military personnel when his vehicle was hit by a drone missile strike.

“We do everything we can to ensure that when we do take actions [such as killing Soleimani] there are not civilians in the area,” the Defense Department official said.

The Pentagon says the recent attacks Soleimani had been directing were part of a steady pattern of aggression by Iran proxy groups in Iraq over the past year.

“Of course, we’ve seen aggression from Iran throughout the region for 40 years, but we’ve seen a significant increase since May,” the Defense Department official said.

Iran has been blamed for using explosive limpet mines in June to attack oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman as well as a drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities in September. Soleimani is thought to have directed both missions. The threats and violent activities have increased in the past few months, officials said.

The Defense Department official would not comment on what steps Iran might take in retaliation but said the Pentagon would be taking all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel in the region.

Soleimani was responsible for organizing, directing and controlling these attacks,” the Defense Department official said. “We think this [U.S. strike] is going to be a significant disruption to ongoing plotting and planning.”

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