Soleimani was killed because he crossed U.S. ‘red line’ with attacks, says former Trump adviser


The death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was part of a deliberately ‘disproportional response’ because he crossed a ‘red line’ in killing an American and ordering an attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, according to a new insider account of the Trump White House.

In his new book, Gen. Keith Kellogg makes no mention of evidence that Soleimani was planning an imminent attack on Americans – the official justification for the strike. 

His account will be seized on by experts in international law who have questioned the legality of a drone strike that killed Iran’s most powerful military figure.

Kellogg was national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence in January 2020, as the Trump administration responded to a series of provocations.

In December 2019, a U.S. civilian contractor had been killed when an Iranian-backed proxy militia in Iraq launched a missile attack on an allied air base.

The U.S. responded with strikes of its own, followed in turn by Shia militiamen marching on the American embassy in Baghdad and smashing their way through a checkpoint.

The unrest was quelled only when reinforcements, in the form of Iraqi troops, U.S. Marines and Apache helicopters arrived . 

‘But our response had barely begun. We had highly reliable intelligence reports affirming that our chief enemy here was Soleimani,’ writes Kellogg in ‘War by Other Means: A General in the Trump White House.’ published today.

‘We had always considered him a legitimate target because he was a sponsor for terrorism and was directly responsible for the deaths and maiming of hundreds of Americans. 

‘The Iranians had crossed our “red line” by killing an American and reinforced their folly by attacking our embassy in Baghdad. 

‘We would respond. And this time our response would be disproportional. 

‘We jumped up the escalation ladder. Our answer would be unambiguous. Our target would be Soleimani.’

Gen. Qassem Soleimani was head Iran's Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and believed to be responsible for Tehran's backing for Shia proxies, before his death last year

Gen. Qassem Soleimani was head Iran’s Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and believed to be responsible for Tehran’s backing for Shia proxies, before his death last year

10 people died when a drone strike hit the convoy carrying Soleimani as he left Baghdad airport on Jan. 3, in an attack that triggered anti-U.S. protests in Iran

10 people died when a drone strike hit the convoy carrying Soleimani as he left Baghdad airport on Jan. 3, in an attack that triggered anti-U.S. protests in Iran

Gen. Keith Kellogg was national security adviser to Mike Pence in Jan. 2020 when the strike on Soleimani was ordered. He serveed in a range of security positions in the Trump White House

Gen. Keith Kellogg was national security adviser to Mike Pence in Jan. 2020 when the strike on Soleimani was ordered. He serveed in a range of security positions in the Trump White House

Kellogg's book, 'War by Other Means,'  is published by Regnery on Tuesday

Kellogg’s book, ‘War by Other Means,’  is published by Regnery on Tuesday

Soleimani was killed when an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles at his convoy as it left Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.

On Tuesday, Trump hailed Kellogg’s book – which offered a flattering portrait of his time as president – as ‘factual and indisputable.’

‘Unlike other Fakers and Slimeballs that write fictional books without knowing me or virtually anything about me, The General knew me and my administration well, and he was there for every major National Security decision,’ he said in an emailed statement.

Kellogg was a senior figure on the National Security Council under Trump, serving as acting National Security Adviser at one time, before working for Pence. 

But his account of the rationale for the Soleimani strike differs from the official line, which claimed the attack was justified because the Iranian general was plotting attacks. 

‘Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him,’ said Trump at time.

And then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: ‘We had specific information on an imminent threat, and those threats from him included attacks on U.S. embassies. Period. Full stop.’

However, experts in international law said the White House failed to support its position and that the strike may have been illegal.

Barbara Slavin, Iran expert with the Atlantic Council, said the strike happened at a time when Trump was under intense pressure to get tough on Iran.

‘I think he was quite terrified that the U.S. embassy could be taken over like the Iranian embassy was taken over after the Iranian revolution,’ she said.

‘It was very much an ex post facto explanation for doing what was an extraordinary escalation and something that was illegal under international law.’ 

Kellogg was national security adviser to Trump after the resignation of Mike Flynn, and had walk-in rights to the Oval Office during much of his time at the White House

Kellogg was national security adviser to Trump after the resignation of Mike Flynn, and had walk-in rights to the Oval Office during much of his time at the White House

Soleimani was the head of Iran’s Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and believed to be responsible for Tehran’s backing for Shia proxies sowing unrest through the Middle East.

He was often described as the country’s most powerful figure after its supreme leader.  

Last year, a United Nations expert said that without an imminent threat to life the strike was unlawful.

Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, concluded in her report that the U.S. provided no evidence that would have justified immediate action. 

‘Major General Soleimani was in charge of Iran military strategy, and actions, in Syria and Iraq,’ she said. 

‘But absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the US was unlawful.’

The strike was an ‘arbitrary killing’ for which the US is responsible under international human rights law, she concluded.



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