Two months after a U.S. drone strike killed a preeminent Iranian general, the Pentagon's top two military leaders said President Donald Trump made the right decision, one that has deterred Iran's terrorist activities in the region.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that it was the right call to kill Iranian Quds Force leader Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, describing him as a "terrorist leader of a terrorist organization that killed many, many Americans, wounded thousands more."
Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, said she agreed with the decision to carry out the Jan. 2 missile strike on Soleimani's vehicle in Baghdad and asked Esper to talk about how the attack has affected Iran.
"It's now been two months. Can you share at all what you have seen?" McSally asked. "I believe we have heard from you and others that it was a body blow, the impact that that is having on Iran's terrorist activities."
Esper said it's clear that "taking him off the battlefield has set back the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and the Iranian government with regard to spreading their malign activity through the region."
"I think at the same action, we have restored deterrence to a degree," he said. "And so, for all those things, I still believe it was the right call made by the commander in chief."
Iran retaliated for the death of Soleimani by firing 15 ballistic missiles at Al Asad Air Base, an installation in Iraq that houses U.S. troops. There were no immediate casualties in the attack, but since then more than 100 U.S. service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury from the concussive effects of the missiles.
At the hearing, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, asked Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley to reflect on the decision to carry out the strike on Soleimani.
"We all know General Soleimani wasn't in Iraq on vacation," Sullivan said. "He was there targeting the killing of more American service members, which he has a long history of doing."
Milley responded by saying, "I believe the intelligence was compelling; I believe it was imminent" of Soleimani's "command-and-control role and what he was about to do."
"I believe that I, Secretary Esper, the president and many others would have been culpably negligent had we not taken the action we did ... because I think many Americans would have died as a result," Milley added. "I believe it was the right thing to do then, and I still believe that. And I believe we contributed to reestablishing deterrence of aggressive action from Iran."
In the aftermath of the Soleimani strike, the Pentagon ordered thousands of soldiers and Marines to the Middle East to prepare for future Iranian aggression.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.