The top US general made clear Wednesday night that he believes Iran meant to kill US troops in the ballistic missile attack on US forces in Iraq, rebutting a belief among some Trump administration officials that Iran intentionally missed areas populated by Americans.
“I believe based on what I saw and what I know that they were intended to cause structural damage destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft, and to kill personnel. That’s my own personal assessment,” said Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when speaking to reporters on Wednesday,
Milley argued that the reason there were no casualties had “more to do with the defensive techniques that our forces used as opposed to intent.”
He added, “We took sufficient defensive measures that there were no casualties to US personnel, coalition personnel, contractors or Iraqis.”
The message runs counter to what some administration officials have suggested to CNN, which is that Iran could have directed their missiles to hit areas that are populated by Americans but intentionally did not. And those officials said Iran may have chosen to send a message rather than take significant enough action to provoke a substantial US military response, a possible signal the administration was looking for rationale to calm the tensions.
Iran fired a number of missiles aimed at the bases in retaliation for the American strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani last week, further escalating tensions between the two countries. Officials have said there were no US casualties as a result of the attacks, though a full assessment is underway.
Iranian missiles also landed close to the US consulate in Erbil, but didn’t target the consulate itself, though the belief is that they could have.
“We could have done it and we didn’t do it,” is the message Iranians appeared to be sending, a State Department official said.
The US gave Iran the “opportunity to do what they needed to do and not escalate by killing Americans,” the official said, suggesting how the administration could frame the retaliation. This was “a smart move” by the Iranians who demonstrated that they had “more to lose” if they killed Americans.
In remarks to the nation Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump signaled a de-escalation of tensions between the US and Iran.
“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” Trump said, striking a somber tone in a speech at the White House.
Now, the major question is if Iranian proxies follow suit, the official explained. Pompeo is “pragmatic” right now and the general sentiment Tuesday night was “let’s take a breath.”
There were no additional moves taken overnight to add any more protection to US diplomatic facilities abroad.
Iraq received “an official verbal message” from Iran about the missile attack shortly before midnight on Wednesday, according to a statement from Iraq’s Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi. He said Iraq was told that the strike would be “limited to the whereabouts of the US military in Iraq, without giving the exact location.”
Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani, one of Iran’s most powerful men, has touched off a fresh crisis between the US and Iran. Following the strike, Pompeo and other top officials had said US wants to de-escalate the crisis, but Trump on Saturday vowed specific military action against Iran if it “strikes any Americans, or American assets.”
This story and its headline have been updated to include additional reporting.
CNN’s Nicole Gaouette, Hamdi Alkhshali, Ryan Browne, Barbara Starr, Tamara Qiblawi, Zachary Cohen and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.