By Allen Zhong
The Department of Defense, along with the Department of State and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, has briefed staff members from the House Armed Service Committee and the Senate Armed Service Committee, Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah said on Saturday.
Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Katie Wheelbarger hosted the briefing with senior representatives from the other two departments.
Eleven attacks happened against U.S. forces in Iraq since October, besides the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Dec. 27, according to the Pentagon.
“The briefing highlighted the recent decisive defensive actions taken to protect U.S. personnel abroad, including the strikes against Iran-backed Kata’ib Hizballah (KH) on Dec. 29, and the elimination of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF) commander Qasem Soleimani on Jan. 2,” Farah said. “These strikes offer the regime in Iran an opportunity to turn from its terrorist past and cease its unlawful, aggressive escalatory attacks.”
The briefers emphasized that appropriate measures have been taken to ensure the safety and security of U.S. citizens, forces, partners, and interests in the region.
After Soleimani’s killing, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) complained that President Trump didn’t notify Congress about the attack in advance.
“I’m a member of the Gang of Eight, which is typically briefed in advance of operations of this level of significance. We were not,” he said.
Besides Schumer, the congressional “Gang of Eight”—a colloquial term—includes the House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. “Gang of Eight” members are responsible for congressional oversight of all intelligence agencies and are briefed on classified intelligence matters by the executive branch.
However, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)—a close ally of Trump—said he was briefed about the plan.
“I was briefed about the potential operation when I was down in Florida,” Graham said on Fox News. “I appreciate being brought into the orbit. I really appreciate President Trump letting the world know you cannot kill an American without impunity. We will stand up for our people, and that is an absolutely essential message.”
The tensions between the United States and Iran escalated after the killing of Soleimani.
On Friday, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander said Iran will punish Americans wherever they are within reach in retaliation for the killing of Soleimani, Tasnim news agency reported.
Gholamali Abuhamzeh, the commander of the guards in the southern province of Kerman, floated the idea of attacking 35 U.S. targets in the region and Israeli city Tel Aviv.
He also raised the prospect of possible attacks on ships crossing the Strait of Hormuz.
On Saturday, Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah militia warned Iraqi security forces to stay away from U.S. bases in Iraq, according to al-Mayadeen television.
However, experts and people familiar with the situation told The Epoch Times that Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is unlikely to order attacks on U.S. assets while they’re mourning Soleimani.
“Khamenei is unlikely to go to war during the coming days, as he’s scheduled to pray over Soleimani on Monday at Tehran University,” said Sam Bazzi, Middle East expert and founder of Hezbollah Watch.
Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called on Russia, France, Iraq, and several other countries in the Middle East to affirm the Trump administration’s resolve in protecting American interests, personnel, facilities, and partners, and commit to de-escalating tensions.
Mimi Nguyen Ly, Venus Upadhayaya, and Reuters contributed to this report.
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