Iran's top general Soleimani killed in US strike

By Jessie Yeung, Fernando Alfonso III, Tara John, Julia Hollingsworth, Rob Picheta, Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 4:26 a.m. ET, January 4, 2020
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3:43 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Trump: "We do not seek regime change" in Iran

In a statement from Mar-a-Lago, President Trump said the US is not seeking regime change in Iran following an attack that killed a top Iranian general. 

"We do not seek regime change," he said.

Trump added, "the Iranian regime's aggression in the region — including its use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors — must end and it must end now."

"We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war," Trump said.

3:43 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Trump on Soleimani: "His reign of terror is over"

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Trump said the US caught Qasem Soleimani "in the act and terminated him" during a speech today at Mar-a-Lago.

"Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks," Trump said. "We caught him in the act and terminated him."

Trump added: "His reign of terror is over."

3:31 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Iranian foreign minister: "The Americans will see the outcome without us taking any action"

From CNN's Chandler Thornton

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images
Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the killing of General Qasem Soleimani was a "cowardly terrorist action" by the Americans.

Speaking an interview on IRIB TV aired by Iranian state-funded Press TV, Zarif offered his condolences to the families of those killed in the attack by the US.  

Zarif said the killing was "a major blunder by the Americans, and the Americans will see the outcome without us taking any action."

"We will not be affected by American propaganda, so at the appropriate time, we will give the proper response as mentioned by the leader," Zarif said. 
2:58 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Top US general: Soleimani was planning a "significant campaign of violence"

From CNN's Barbara Starr

There was “compelling” intelligence and clear evidence that Qasem Soleimani was planning a “significant campaign of violence” against the US in the coming days, weeks and months, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.

The US has not provided any evidence on what the specifics threats were.

Asked if the threat was imminent, Milley said “absolutely” but defined it as days or maybe weeks away.

The top US general said multiple threats were emerging and they weren't all a result of the US retaliatory strikes.

“We would be culpably negligent” if we didn’t take action, Milley said.

Milley pushed back on whether there was any impulsiveness on the part of the US launching the airstrike.

He went on to say that they "fully comprehend the strategic risks and consequences” of killing the Iranian military commander. “The risk of inaction exceeded the risk of action," Milley said.

He warned that attacks on US interests could still happen. US forces from a station in Italy have been put on alert and are ready if needed to protect US embassy in Beirut.

2:44 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Trump administration will take action against Iran proxies

From CNN's Jim Acosta

Qais Khazali attends a campaign gathering in Baghdad in 2018.
Qais Khazali attends a campaign gathering in Baghdad in 2018. Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration will be designating AAH, or Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, as a foreign terror organization, a senior White House official said.

AAH, which is also known as the Khazali Network, is an Iraqi Shia paramilitary group that the US claims is a proxy for Iran, the official said. It was largely believed to be controlled by General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone attack overnight at Baghdad's airport, the official said. 

The State Department is also expected to designate AAH's Iraqi leaders, the Khazali brothers as SDGT, or Specially Designated Foreign Terrorist, the official said. 

Qais Khazali, who was once captured by British forces and has publicly targeted both the US and Israel, founded AAH and was recently sighted at the scene of the US Embassy attack in Baghdad, the official said.

2:28 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Defense Department spokesperson says troops will deploy to Kuwait

From CNN's Ryan Browne

A Department of Defense spokesperson has confirmed the deployment of troops to the Middle East following the death of Qasem Soleimani, top general and one of the most powerful men in Iran.

"As previously announced, the Immediate Response Force (IRF) brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was alerted to prepare for deployment, and are now being deployed. One battalion of the IRF was deployed to the AOR (area of responsibility). At the same time, the remainder of the brigade was placed on 96-hour notice. This deployment was an anticipated and expected outcome when they were placed on notice. The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, and will assist in reconstituting the reserve," the spokesperson said.
4:32 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Schiff says Soleimani killing has "increased the danger of the war with Iran, not decreased it"

Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the strikes to take out Qasem Soleimani "have increased the danger of the war with Iran, not decreased it."

Schiff added that he is yet to be "fully satisfied that the [Trump] administration has a strategy" and "a broader coherent plan" following the strike. He said it "greatly concerns me."

"So if the administration has a broader strategy, they have yet to the articulate it or explain to the Congress why that strategy lacks support of our own allies, and how this is somehow going to make us safer," Schiff told reporters.

Watch for more:

2:17 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Trump administration lawyers concluded that Soleimani strike did not need congressional sign off

From CNN's Pamela Brown and Zachary Cohen

Prior to the strike that targeted Qasem Soleimani, White House administration lawyers in consultation with national security officials put together a "strong rationale" specifically for the strike against the Iranian general that President Trump, as commander in chief, had the authority to not ask for congressional authorization over a matter of self defense, the administration official said. 

That legal rationale formed the basis for not going to Congress for authorization beforehand.

"We did not feel the need to ask for authorization over basic rights of self defense," the official said. 

A separate administration official says the strike was fully vetted by three different sets of lawyers from the White House, Department of Justice and Department of Defense. All three sets of lawyers deemed the strike was a fully appropriate action and 100% lawful.

Part of the legal reasoning was that Soleimani was deemed an enemy combatant because he was in the process of planning specific attacks in the near future on US and allied personnel and citizens, including military personnel.

"We always have a right to self defense when terrorists are plotting attacks," the official said.

The administration concluded it didn't need congressional sign off from a legal standpoint. The official also pointed out Soleimani had been deemed a foreign terrorist several different times by the US, including two executive orders that date back to 2007.

The administration has not provided any details on justification.

2:27 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Trump likely to address US drone attack today

U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on December 19, in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on December 19, in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump makes his first public appearance tonight at 5 p.m. ET, where officials say he will likely address the US drone attack at the Baghdad airport that killed Iran's top military commander General Qasem Soleimani.

Trump will be speaking before a group of evangelical Christians, as he participates in the launch of the Evangelicals for Trump Coalition.