Pentagon Confirms US Killed Gen. Soleimani, Head of Iran's Elite Quds Force

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Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani attends an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution
In this Feb. 11, 2016 file photo, Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani attends an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The Pentagon has confirmed that a U.S. strike at Baghdad's International Airport Thursday night killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

He had been planning attacks on U.S. troops and diplomats, officials said.

In an unattributed statement, the Defense Department said that on order of President Donald Trump "the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani," head of the Quds Force, which was recently designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department.

The Pentagon statement charged that Soleimani was "actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region," prompting the rocket attack on vehicles at the airport.

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Iraqi media said the attack was carried out by drones.

"This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans," the statement added. "The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world."

President Donald Trump did not speak publicly about the killing of Soleimani Thursday night, but tweeted out the image of an American flag.

Earlier, in an off-camera Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Mark Esper had warned that the U.S. was prepared to take preemptive action to protect U.S. forces and facilities in the region following an assault Tuesday on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, allegedly planned by Suleimani.

Iran's Tasnim news agency, which has close ties to the IRGC, confirmed Soleimani's death early Friday local time.

The strike at the airport killed a total of five people, including Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of the Iranian-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH) militia believed responsible for the storming of the U.S. embassy on Tuesday, according to Iraqi state TV.

The U.S. has charged that the KH militia was behind at least 11 rocket attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq in the last two months, including one last Friday on a U.S. position near central Kirkuk that killed an American contractor and wounded four U.S. troops.

The Pentagon statement noted Soleimani's history as a main figure in orchestrating Iran's support for opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and for the Lebanese Hezbollah in backing the regime of Syria President Bashar al-Assad.

"General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more" since 2003, the Pentagon's statement said.

In addition, "He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months," including the one near Kirkuk that killed the American contractor, the statement said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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