Cameras “miles in the sky,” a countdown and then “boom”: US President Donald Trump has recounted the final moments of Iran’s powerful military leader, Qassem Soleimani, in an American drone strike.
Trump delivered the account Friday night to Republican Party donors at his Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, for a fundraising dinner, U.S. media said.
CNN on Saturday broadcast an audio recording in which the president gave new details about the January 3 strike at the airport in Baghdad. It killed the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander and members of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force with close ties to Iran.
“He was supposed to be invincible,” Trump said.
Democrats and other critics have questioned the timing of the strike, the month before Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, and the administration’s shifting reasons for launching it.
In the audio released by CNN, Trump did not refer to an “imminent” attack that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Soleimani was planning. Nor was there a reference to “four embassies,” which Trump later alleged were being targeted.
‘Saying bad things’
“He was saying bad things about our country. He was saying like, ‘We’re going to attack your country. We’re going to kill your people.’ I said, ‘Look, how much of this s do we have to listen to?’ ” Trump told his guests.
He then described the scene, relaying the words of the military officers giving live updates to him in Washington.
“They said, ‘Sir’ — and this is from, you know, cameras that are miles in the sky — ‘they are together, sir. Sir, they have two minutes and 11 seconds.’ No bulls. ‘They have two minutes and 11 seconds to live, sir. They’re in the car. They’re in an armored vehicle, going. … Sir, they have approximately one minute to live, sir … 30 seconds, 10, nine, eight … .’ Then, all of sudden, boom. ‘They’re gone, sir.’ ”
Trump acknowledged that the U.S. strike “shook up the world” but said Soleimani “deserved to be hit hard” because he was responsible for killing “thousands of Americans.”
Iran vowed revenge for the U.S. strike, raising fears of war, and later launched missiles at bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. None were killed.