All eyes on Trump after Iran fires missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq

Author: CBS NEWS
Published: Updated:
FILE: President Donald Trump speaks during an “Evangelicals for Trump Coalition Launch” at King Jesus International Ministry, Friday, Jan. 3, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci/FILE)

Iran launched missile strikes late Tuesday against two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the airstrike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last week. More than a dozen ballistic missiles targeted the Al Asad and Erbil military bases, the Pentagon said, and U.S. officials were assessing the damage.

It was still unclear early Wednesday morning whether there were any casualties, but in a tweet Tuesday night President Trump said: “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif defended Iran’s attack, tweeting that Tehran “took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense.” He added that “we do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

The Al Asad air base houses about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces. The base was already on high-alert and recently paused its operations against ISIS to shift resources to prepare for a possible revenge attack by Iran.

The ball is back in Trump’s court

President Trump was expected to address the nation on Wednesday after Iran unleashed a salvo of ballistic missiles targeting two bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops. Mr. Trump’s decision on how to respond to the attack, which as of Wednesday morning appeared to have caused no casualties, was likely to determine whether the current crisis with Iran keeps escalating toward war, or begins to calm down.

A U.S. official told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin that American forces at the two bases had enough warning that a missile attack was coming that they had time to take cover.

Just hours before the missile strikes, Mr. Trump issued another warning to Tehran, saying that “if Iran does anything that they shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to be suffering the consequences, and very strongly.”

But it was still unclear whether the president would deem the seemingly ineffective attack on the Iraqi bases as warranting a strong military response.

CBS News White House correspondent Weijia Jiang reported that Mr. Trump was at the White House late Tuesday night with his national security team, including Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.

Pompeo has been a main voice in the administration’s defense of the strike that killed Qassem Soleimani and has long advocated for aggressive action in the region, and helped champion what he calls the “strongest maximum pressure campaign in history” against Iran.

Jiang said Mr. Trump now finds himself walking a fine line with his political base; he campaigned on a promise to get U.S. troops out of “forever wars,” and thus far his administration has yet to provide evidence to support his decision to escalate a conflict with Iran.

Eyes and ears not just in the Middle East and the United States, but across the world, will be on the U.S. leader when he speaks Wednesday morning.

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