The latest on the US-Iran crisis

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6:51 p.m. ET, January 6, 2020

Pentagon leadership defends intelligence on Soleimani strike

The Pentagon’s top leadership on Monday defended the intelligence that drove the US military to carry out the strike that killed Iran’s Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

They denied reports that the intelligence was “thin” and stressed that very few people in government have seen it.

“We know his history. Importantly we knew his future. I’m not going to go into the details of that and I know that a lot of people are out there. I’ve seen words like, 'Oh the intelligence is razor thin.' Very very few people saw that intelligence. He and I saw that intelligence,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told reporters at the Pentagon while speaking alongside Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

“And I will be happy when the appropriate time comes and in front of the proper committees and anybody else, through history and every — I will stand by the intelligence I saw, that it was compelling, it was imminent, and it was very, very clear in scale, scope. Did it exactly say who, what, when, where? No, but he was planning, coordinating and synchronizing significant combat operations against US military forces in the region and it was imminent,” Milley said.

“We’re not going to go further than that because of the sources and methods and I know people say well you’re hiding behind it and you lie and all that. That’s not true, I know what I saw and I think I said publicly previously and I will reiterate it, that we, those of us who are involved in the decision making of that, we would have been culpably negligent to the American people had we not made the decision we made,” he added.

 

5:02 p.m. ET, January 6, 2020

Esper on targeting Soleimani: "We didn’t put any option on the table that we didn’t believe in"

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the Pentagon didn’t put any options on the table to confront Iran that they “didn’t believe in” and that they “couldn’t execute.”

There have been reports that the targeting killing of Qasem Soleimani was not an option that President Trump was expected to choose to carryout. 

“We didn’t put any option on the table that we didn’t believe in and that we couldn’t execute, and with each option we present the pros and cons, the costs and benefits. that’s what we do all the time, that’s my duty, my obligation, that’s [Milley’s] duty and obligation as well," Esper said.
5:25 p.m. ET, January 6, 2020

Top US general says letter on troop movement "implies withdrawal, that is not what’s happening"

US soldiers provide armed overwatch at the US Embassy compound in Baghdad on January 1.
US soldiers provide armed overwatch at the US Embassy compound in Baghdad on January 1. Operation Inherent Resolve

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley, called a letter that discussed the movement of troops in Iraq, a “mistake” and that it was poorly worded, incorrectly suggesting that the US was withdrawing troops.

Earlier today, a US official confirmed the authenticity of a letter viewed by CNN from the US Department of Defense to the Iraqi Defense Ministry, which discusses the movement of troops in the region.

Seeking to clarify confusion over a letter leaked today, Milley told reporters: 

“That letter is a draft, it was a mistake, it was unsigned, it should not have been released…poorly worded, implies withdrawal, that is not what’s happening.”

Milley said, “It’s an honest mistake…it should not have been sent”

The draft was shared with the Iraqis.

Watch more:

4:32 p.m. ET, January 6, 2020

Pompeo is briefing senators on Iran right now

A source familiar confirms Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in a secure room right now briefing senators on Iran.

The classified briefing is different than the all-senators briefing that will happen on Wednesday.

Sens. Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, and Todd Young entered the secure room.

4:30 p.m. ET, January 6, 2020

Top congressional leaders expected to be briefed on Tuesday

A group of top congressional leaders, known as the Gang of Eight, is expected to be briefed on Iran Tuesday afternoon, a source said.

It’s expected in the afternoon but the exact time has not been determined yet.

The Gang of Eight is generally privy to sensitive information that the rest of Congress is not always briefed on.

4:41 p.m. ET, January 6, 2020

Defense secretary says US military will not target Iranian cultural sites

Secretary Esper at a press conference in Palm Beach, Florida, on December 29.
Secretary Esper at a press conference in Palm Beach, Florida, on December 29. Evan Vucci/AP

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the US will not target Iranian cultural sites

He went on to say the US "will follow the laws of armed conflict.” 

President Trump threatened to target Iranian cultural sites on Sunday. 

"They're allowed to kill our people, they're allowed to torture and maim our people, they're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people, and we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way," Trump said, according to a pool report.

4:06 p.m. ET, January 6, 2020

US notifies Iraq of troop movement, but does not confirm withdrawal, official says

The US has notified Iraq of the repositioning of some of its troops, a US official with direct knowledge told CNN today.

The US official in Baghdad told CNN this is just a notification about repositioning of troops from one place to another within the region. The official said these notifications are standard based on a number of movements. “In particular, tonight we were going to have a lot of helicopters flying through Baghdad and it shows that we operate within the laws of the government of Iraq.”

The official continued, “We are still very much partnered with the Iraqi security forces and while our training mission and operations to defeat ISIS in Iraq have paused we look forward to resume those operations at a moment’s notice. Most of these troops being repositioned are involved in the training mission are in administrative roles.”

Another US official confirmed the authenticity of a letter viewed by CNN from the US Department of Defense to the Iraqi Defense Ministry, which discusses the movement of troops in the region.

Dated today, the letter from US Marine Corps Commanding Brigadier General William H. Seely III said, “In due deference to the sovereignty of the Republic of Iraq, and as requested by the Iraqi Parliament and Prime Minister, CJTF-OIR will be repositioning forces over the course of the coming days and weeks to prepare for onward movement.” The letter does not claim the US is withdrawing troops from Iraq but comes as the US faces the possibility of being told to leave by the Iraqi government.

The letter details helicopter movement around the international zone of Baghdad and said Coalition forces will take appropriate measures to minimize and mitigate disturbances to the public. The letter reiterates “the value of our friendship and partnership” and ends, “We respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.”

CNN’s Arwa Damon and Ingrid Formanek are reporting from Baghdad.

3:38 p.m. ET, January 6, 2020

US issues travel advisory in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza due to "heightened tension"

Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images
Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

The US Embassy in Israel has issued a travel advisory for Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza due to "heightened tension in the Middle East."

"Out of an abundance of caution, the Embassy strongly encourages US citizens to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness, as security incidents, including rocket fire, often take place without warning," the embassy said in a statement.

The embassy said it would continue to monitor the situation.

Here's a list of guidelines from the embassy:

  • Keep a low profile and be aware of your surroundings
  • Review your personal security plans
  • Have travel documents up to date and easily accessible
  • Avoid all demonstrations
  • Monitor local media and follow the instructions of local authorities
3:12 p.m. ET, January 6, 2020

US expected to deploy 6 bombers for possible Iran operations

The Pentagon is planning to begin the deployment of six B-52 aircraft to the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean on Monday, according to a US official. The B-52s will be available for operations against Iran if ordered, the official said.

Remember: The deployment does not signal that operations have been ordered. The Pentagon has traditionally deployed long range bombers and other aircraft as a sign of US force presence and capability. 

Last year, six B-52s deployed to Qatar when tensions with Iran began rising. But this time Diego Garcia was chosen to keep the aircraft out of the range of Iranian missiles, the official said.