President Trump in June authorized the option of killing senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani if Iranian aggression led to the death of Americans, NBC reported on Monday.
The conditions for an operation targeting Soleimani were that it would be a response to Iran killing Americans, and that the president would have to personally sign off on the order.
“There have been a number of options presented to the president over the course of time,” a senior administration official told NBC, saying an operation to kill Soleimani was put on the table “some time ago.”
On December 27, the Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah launched over 30 rockets at a U.S. military base in Iraq, killing an American contractor and wounding four military personnel. Trump decided to respond at the time with airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah positions, but the group then led several days of protests at the American embassy in Baghdad.
The New York Times reported that Trump decided on killing Soleimani after seeing the images of crowds attacking the embassy. According to the paper, top Pentagon generals were stunned that Trump went through with the operation.
The leader of Kataib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was killed in the same drone strike as Soleimani while traveling in the Iranian general’s convoy.
At the same time as the Soleimani operation was underway, the administration authorized another covert operation in Yemen targeting a senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, the Washington Post reported on Friday. Details of that operation have been slow to emerge as U.S. military activities in Yemen are generally highly classified.