Secretary of Defense Mark Esper defended President Trump's decision to order the strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Force, during a press conference at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes were killed by a U.S. airstrike while they were in a car at the Baghdad International Airport. In a statement, the Pentagon said Soleimani was in the country to carry out more attacks against Americans in the region. Iranian-backed militias were under Soleimani's orders to attack the American Embassy in Baghdad on New Year's Eve.
Esper said they are not trying to start a war with Iran and that it was to send a message to Iran's leaders to not attack Americans anymore.
"Let’s take a look at history. Soleimani was a terrorist leader of a U.S. designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. He’s been conducting terrorist activities against us and our coalition partners for over 20 years," Esper said. "He has the blood of hundreds of American soldiers on his hands and wounded thousands more. And we could talk about the mayhem he has caused against the Syrian people, the people of Lebanon, even his own people in Iran."
Esper said Soleimani and his Quds Force are responsible for killing many Iranians. Soleimani's Quds Force is also responsible for over 600 U.S. military deaths, mainly through using sophisticated improvised explosive devices.
"This sense that somehow taking, somebody who by the way over the last few months had planned, orchestrated and/or resourced attacks against the United States that resulted in the killing of an American and the siege of our embassy in Baghdad, and was in Baghdad to coordinate additional attacks, to somehow suggest that he wasn’t a legitimate target I think is fanciful," he said. "He was clearly on the battlefield. He was conducting or preparing, planning military operations. He was a legitimate target and his time was due."