President Trump approved limited strikes, but then called them off
A U.S. official says the military made preparations Thursday night for limited strikes on Iran in retaliation for the downing of a U.S. surveillance drone, but approval was abruptly withdrawn before the attacks were launched.
The official, who was not authorized to discuss the operation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, says the targets would have included radars and missile batteries.
The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump had approved the strikes, but then called them off. The newspaper cited anonymous senior administration officials.
The White House on Thursday night declined requests for information about whether Trump changed his mind.
Trump spent most of Thursday discussing Iran strategy with top national security advisers and congressional leaders. Asked earlier in the day about a U.S. response to the attack, he said, “You’ll soon find out.”
Trump declared Thursday that “Iran made a very big mistake” by shooting down the drone over the Strait of Hormuz and gathered top national security officials at the White House to discuss options.
Trump also suggested that shooting down the drone was a foolish error rather than an intentional escalation of the tensions that have led to rising fears of open military conflict.
“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said at the White House. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”
The downing of the huge, unmanned aircraft, which Iran portrayed as a deliberate defense of its territory rather than a mistake, was a stark reminder of the risk of military conflict between U.S. and Iranian forces as the Trump administration combines a “maximum pressure” campaign of economic sanctions with a buildup of American forces in the region.
On Thursday, Iran called the sanctions “economic terrorism,” insisted the drone had invaded its airspace and said it was taking its case to the United Nations in an effort to prove the U.S. was lying about the aircraft being over international waters. It accused the U.S. of “a very dangerous and provocative act.”
The drone – which has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 737 – entered Iranian airspace “despite repeated radio warnings” and was shot down by Iran, acting under the U.N. Charter which allows self-defense action “if an armed attack occurs,” Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said in a letter to the U.N. secretary-general.
Trump, who has said he wants to avoid war and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, appeared to play down the significance of the shootdown.
He cast it as “a new wrinkle ... a new fly in the ointment.” Yet he also said “this country will not stand for it, that I can tell you.”
On Capitol Hill, leaders urged caution to avoid escalation, and some lawmakers insisted the White House must consult with Congress before taking any actions.
Shortly before Trump spoke, Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Central Command air forces in the region, took a more pointed view of the shootdown in an area where Trump has blamed Iran for attacking shipping vessels.
“This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce,” he said.
The Trump administration has been putting increasing economic pressure on Iran for more than a year. It reinstated punishing sanctions following Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of an international agreement intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from earlier sanctions.
The other world powers who remain signed on to the nuclear deal have set a meeting to discuss the U.S. withdrawal and Iran’s announced plans to increase its uranium stockpile for June 28, a date far enough in the future to perhaps allow tensions to cool.
Citing Iranian threats, the U.S. recently sent an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region and deployed additional troops alongside the tens of thousands already there. All this has raised fears that a miscalculation or further rise in tensions could push the U.S. and Iran into an open conflict 40 years after Tehran’s Islamic Revolution.
“We do not have any intention for war with any country, but we are fully ready for war,” Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami said in a televised address.
The paramilitary Guard said it shot down the drone at 4:05 a.m. Thursday when it entered Iranian airspace near the Kouhmobarak district in southern Iran’s Hormozgan province.