Hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, President Trump on Wednesday sought to assure Americans that the United States was not on the brink of another war in the Middle East.
“The American people should be extremely grateful and happy no Americans were harmed,” Trump said in a statement from the White House’s Grand Foyer, flanked by members of his national security team. “We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.”
“Iran appears to be standing down,” the president continued, “which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world.”
Trump reiterated his long-held complaint that the United States does more than its allies in securing Middle East peace.
“Today I’m going to ask NATO to be much more involved in the Middle East process,” he said.
Trump also criticized the 2015 Iran nuclear deal brokered by former President Barack Obama, from which Trump withdrew in 2018.
“Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they chanted ‘death to America,’” the president said. “In fact, they chanted ‘death to America’ the day the agreement was signed.”
Trump suggested the United States would refrain from further military action, saying he would impose new economic sanctions on Iran instead.
“Our missiles are big, powerful, accurate, lethal, and fast,” the president said. “The fact that we have this great military and equipment, however, does not mean we have to use it. We do not want to use it.”
“The United States is ready to embrace peace with all who seek it,” he added.
According to U.S. officials, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces, targeting at least two Iraqi military bases in Al-Asad and Erbil. Several of the missiles failed in flight, U.S. officials said, and there were no American casualties.
There were multiple reports that U.S. officials had advance warning of the attack, allowing troops and other personnel to shelter in hardened bunkers. Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi said in a statement Wednesday that Iran sent Iraq a warning that an attack “had begun or would begin shortly” on unspecified U.S. military locations.
The strikes came less than a week after Soleimani — the charismatic head of the Quds Force, the special operations and intelligence branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard — was killed by an American drone outside a Baghdad airport. The White House has said Iran “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” But the administration has yet to publicly disclose the intelligence that purportedly showed a threat was “imminent.”
Administration officials were expected to brief members of Congress on the intelligence later Wednesday.
Related: How the U.S. and Iran came to the brink of war
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that Tuesday’s missile strikes were in response to Soleimani’s killing.
“Last night they received a slap,” Khamenei said in a speech after the missile strikes, adding: “These military actions are not sufficient [for revenge]. What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end.”
The Iraqi Parliament voted on a resolution calling for Americans to end their military mission in the country, which began when the U.S. invaded in 2003. The resolution is nonbinding. Trump said Tuesday that he wants to pull the 5,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq, but that now is not the time for a withdrawal.
“At some point we want to get out,” the president said. “But this isn’t the right point.”
Also read: U.S. pullout from Iraq would benefit Iran — and ISIS — experts warn
Earlier Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he expected Iran to retaliate for Soleimani’s killing.
Esper also dismissed the notion that the strike that killed Soleimani was an act of war.
“We are not looking to start a war with Iran,” he said, “but we are prepared to finish one.”
As U.S. officials were assessing the outcome of Tuesday night’s missile attack, Trump struck a hopeful tone.
“All is well!” the president tweeted. “Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far!”
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