U.S. Considered Military Airstrikes Against Iran

Jun 21, 2019
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The United States did not conduct airstrikes on Iran overnight. Normally, it would not be news that something did not happen. But multiple news outlets, starting with The New York Times, report that President Trump ordered strikes. And aircraft were already flying when he changed his mind and called the strikes off. The United States is debating how to respond after Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone. NPR national security correspondent David Welna is covering this story.

David, good morning.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's known here?

WELNA: Well, as you said, President Trump, according to The New York Times - we have not confirmed this independently - ordered these limited strikes against Iran. Apparently, radars and missile batteries were to be targeted. And ships were in place, and planes were in the air already when an operation that was supposed to take place right before dawn, which is about the time when the drone was shot down by Iran yesterday was to take place. But then it was called off. Why it was called off - not sure. But we have been reporting that there are real divisions within this administration about how to respond to Iran. We have people such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton who've been real hawks on Iran. At the Pentagon, I think the generals are far more reluctant to get engaged in what could be a real escalation of this conflict. And in between, we've had President Trump, who, earlier in the day yesterday, seemed to be almost giving Iran a pass, saying that this drone strike was carried out probably by someone who is, as he said, loose and stupid, not - apparently not blaming the Iran regime for this.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

WELNA: And then we have this stepping back from this that's being reported.

INSKEEP: And we now have words from the president himself affirming this story. The president has been on Twitter this morning. He said he stopped this strike 10 minutes before the strike was to take place. That is according to the president of the United States. He felt that it was not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. That is his rationale for going back on the strike he planned, David Welna.

WELNA: Right. And I think there's also a question about how much the U.S. has established that that drone was actually in international airspace. That's a question that has not yet been answered.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much for the update - really appreciate it.

WELNA: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR national security correspondent David Welna. So we now have confirmation from the president in the last few minutes that an airstrike was ordered, planned and then called off with minutes to go. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.