President Donald Trump declared Friday that a “reign of terror is over” as he marked the death of an Iranian general killed in a U.S. strike and as the Pentagon scrambled to reinforce the American military presence in the Middle East in preparation for reprisals.
Gen. Qassem Soleimani “made the death of innocent people his sick passion,” Trump said from his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, adding “a lot of lives would have been saved” if he’d been hunted down years ago.
The United States is sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Mideast in the volatile aftermath of the killing ordered by Trump, defense officials said.
Also Friday, the Pentagon placed an Army brigade in Italy on alert to fly into Lebanon if needed to protect the American Embassy there, part of a series of military moves to protect U.S. interests in the Middle East. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an official said the U.S. could send 130 to more than 700 troops to Beirut from Italy. The official was not authorized to be identified.
Reinforcements were ordered as U.S. officials said they had compelling intelligence that Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force who was killed in the U.S. strike, was planning a significant campaign of violence against the United States.
Officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision not yet announced by the Pentagon, said the new contingent of troops is from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They are in addition to about 700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne who deployed to Kuwait earlier this week after the storming of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters.
Trump said of Soleimani: “We take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over.”
But the dispatching of extra troops reflects concern about potential Iranian retaliatory action for the killing. It also runs counter to Trump’s repeated push to extract the United States from Mideast conflicts. Prior to this week’s troop deployments, the administration had sent 14,000 additional troops to the Mideast since May, when it first publicly claimed Iran was planning attacks on U.S. interests.
The reinforcements took shape as Trump gave his first comments on the strike, declaring that he ordered the killing of Soleimani because he had killed and wounded many Americans over the years and was plotting to kill many more. “He should have been taken out many years ago,” he added.