National security adviser Robert O’Brien on Tuesday said Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was conspiring to attack American facilities, diplomats, and soldiers in “significant numbers.”
“The president has always made it his first priority to protect American citizens, and the intel that we had, the information we had—which we believe was very strong—showed that Soleimani and those he was plotting with were looking to kill American diplomats and soldiers in significant numbers in the coming days,” O’Brien told Fox News.
Thus far, Trump administration officials have not provided many details on the classified evidence that was obtained before the airstrike to kill Soleimani in Iraq, which triggered threats from Tehran.
O’Brien reiterated the positions of President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying that the Iranian general “was in the midst of that plotting” an attack when a drone strike killed him.
“That’s why he was traveling in the region to Damascus and Beirut and Baghdad: To conspire with people to attack American facilities that contained diplomats, soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coast guardsmen,” O’Brien said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper also remarked that “it was only a matter of days” before an attack would have been conducted.
“The threat was being orchestrated by Soleimani,” Esper told reporters, adding that it was “was only a matter of days, certainly no more than weeks.”
Esper told reporters on Monday that there was “an escalation of attacks by Iranian proxy groups, Kataeb Hezbollah being the primary one, attacking our forces.”
“It peaked; it picked up. I’ve talked to you all about it in the October, November timeframe, nearly a dozen attacks over two months, escalating in both size and scale, and the type of weapons used. And then the one on the 27th or 29th, I can’t recall the date, is when it killed an American and wounded soldiers,” he added.
Meanwhile, in Iran, a stampede broke out during the funeral for Soleimani. Earlier in the day, Hossein Salami, the new leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, vowed to avenge Soleimani’s death as he addressed a crowd of supporters gathered at the coffin in a central square in Kerman.
“We tell our enemies that we will retaliate but if they take another action we will set ablaze the places that they like and are passionate about,” Salami said.
Soleimani was the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force and was blamed for the deaths of numerous Americans over the years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.