On January 2, the day the U.S. killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, the military launched a secret operation in Yemen to kill another senior Iranian official.
The operation, which proved unsuccessful, was intended to kill Abdul Reza Shahlai, a financier and commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, the Washington Post reported Friday. Soleimani was the senior commander of the Quds force, the military intelligence and unconventional warfare unit of the IRGC.
“If we had killed him, we’d be bragging about it that same night,” a senior U.S. official told the Post. Another official said the operation had not gone according to plan, thus the administration did not announce it.
The operation against Shahlai is highly classified, and U.S. military operations in Yemen are in general conducted with secrecy.
The specific reason for Shahlai’s presence in Yemen was unclear. Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been fighting the Saudi Arabia-backed government for several years, and the conflict has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Yemen has been hit with widespread famine and an outbreak of cholera during the conflict.
Shahlai is linked to attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, including a 2007 incident during which five U.S. soldiers were abducted and killed in the city of Karbala. The State Department in December said Shahlai has a “long history of involvement in attacks targeting the U.S. and our allies, including in the 2011 plot against the Saudi ambassador” in the U.S.
Iran envoy Brian Hook said last year that the U.S. was “gravely concerned by [Shahlai’s] presence in Yemen and potential role in providing advanced weaponry of the kind we have interdicted to the Houthis.”