Updated at 9:10 a.m. ET
President Trump approved airstrikes on Iran on Thursday after Iran shot down a U.S. drone but called off the operation after the initial moves were underway. Trump says he canceled the plan after being told 150 Iranians would likely be killed.
“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die,” Trump said in a tweet Friday.
When he was told the number, Trump said, he found it was not “proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
The president said he put a halt to the operation 10 minutes before the strike was set to begin.
Trump’s pullback of the strike plan was first reported by The New York Times, which described how even as late as as last as 7 p.m. ET Thursday, military and diplomatic officials were still expecting the attack to proceed.
“Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down,” the Times reported, citing multiple senior Trump administration officials.
Those officials declined to comment on why the operation was aborted, or whether it might still get the green light. Other news outlets, such as the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal, also confirmed the officials’ description of events.
When NPR’s Franco Ordonez asked a senior administration official to confirm or comment on the story, the official’s response was, “We do not comment on pre-operational military planning.”
As Trump discussed potential U.S. responses to Iran’s action around midday Thursday, he sent something of a mixed message.
“You’ll soon find out” if the U.S. is planning a strike on Iran, Trump told reporters, reiterating that Iran had made a “very big mistake.”
But the president also seemed open to the idea that the mistake may not have been an intentional act by Iran’s leaders or its military.
“I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn’t have been doing what they did,” Trump said. He added that “it could have been someone loose and stupid.”
Trump also said that it made a “big, big difference” that the RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone was unmanned.
Reports of the aborted strike on Iran come as Iranian media outlets aired video that purportedly shows the drone shootdown from the ground in Iran, with a surface-to-air missile battery firing a missile into the night sky.
Iranian media also released images of what they describe as parts of the U.S. drone that it says were “retrieved from Iranian waters.”
The drone was shot down one week after two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, in an incident that the U.S. has blamed on Iran. Tehran has denied being involved in that attack; the U.S. says Iran used magnetic mines to cause explosions and fires aboard the ships.
The U.S. and Iran disagree on where the drone was when it was shot down. Iran says the spy craft had intruded on its airspace around Kouhmobarak district in the country’s south, near the Gulf of Oman. According to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the Global Hawk had taken off from the United Arab Emirates and “violated Iranian airspace.”
But the U.S. flatly rejects that description, with Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, saying the drone “had not violated Iranian airspace at any time during its mission.”
Guastella said the U.S. drone was flying 34 kilometers away from Iran’s coast when the Revolutionary Guard shot it down.
Guastella also said the missile attack on the drone was irresponsible, saying it took place “in the vicinity of established air corridors, possibly endangering innocent civilians.”
Citing the “inadvertent risk” Iran’s air defense systems could pose to commercial airlines, Friday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration has banned U.S. airlines from flying in area of Iranian-controlled airspace over the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, in the same area where Iran shot down the drone.
The FAA’s decision came after United Airlines suspended one of its longest passenger routes, a direct flight between Mumbai, India, and Newark, N.J., which often passes through Iranian airspace. The airline tells NPR says that it made the change out of safety concerns, “given current events in Iran.”
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