US President Donald Trump abruptly called off a military strike on Iranian targets in response to the downing of a US spy drone by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps yesterday. Wariness continues to reign, with US Democrats and Republicans alike emphasizing the need for measure and restraint after what Trump called a “very dangerous mistake” by Iran.
Following the downing of a US spy drone, Trump yesterday held a briefing including included CIA Director Gina Haspel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Army Secretary Mark Esper, according to the New York Times.
When asked about the U-turn on plans for a strike, the White House declined to comment.
The strike was due to target a handful of radar and missile batteries.
US caution remains high, with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Thursday issuing an emergency order to prohibit U.S. flight operators from flying the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.
United Airlines had already suspended US-Mumbai flights hours before the warning, saying it would place customers on alternative flights that avoided the area.
Other American airlines and two Japanese carriers also said they refrained from flying over the area.
Iran remains adamant that the drone was flying over Iranian waters – an allegation the US has repeatedly refused, saying the drone had instead been flying over international waters.
“This drone was in international waters, clearly,” Trump told reporters.
“We have it all documented. It’s documented scientifically, not just words.”
US military officials called the drone strike an “unprovoked attack.”
In a tweeted letter addressed to the United Nations Security Council, the Iranian Mission to the United Nations said that the United States had been engaged in a “clear spying operation.”
“While Iran does not seek war, it reserves its inherent right, under the UN Charter, to take all appropriate necessary measures against any hostile act violating its territory & is determined to vigorously defend its land, sea & air,” the statement said.
The remains of a drone were retrieved by Iran in the Gulf of Oman yesterday, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a tweet.
“We’ve retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down,” Zarif asserted.
Addressing the downing of the drone last night, Trump appeared to downplay the incident.
“I think probably Iran made a mistake,” he said as he met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the Oval Office yesterday.
Meanwhile, the vice defense minister of US regional ally Saudi Arabia met with US Special Envoy to Iran Brian Hook to “explore the latest efforts to counter hostile Iranian acts and continuous escalation that threaten the region’s security and stability.”
Hook is currently on a tour of the Gulf region to discuss “the range of active threats Iran currently poses to the region,” according to a US State Department statement released on Wednesday.
Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said a “measured response” was needed from the Trump administration after “Iran directly attacked a United States asset over international waters.”
The attack on the tankers – in which Iran strenuously denies involvement – has led to yet further escalation of US military presence in the Gulf. Trump announced on Monday that an additional 1,000 troops were being sent to the region, on top of a 1,500 troop deployment ordered in May.
After a White House briefing called after the downing of the drone was attended by top lawmakers, US Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were wary in tone, calling for the use of a “strong, smart and strategic, not reckless, approach” in the face of “a dangerous, high-tension situation”.
“We must do everything in our power to de-escalate,” Pelosi said in a tweet.
“We make it very clear that to get involved in any military activities, we must have a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF),” she warned after the meeting.
The 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by US Congress on September 14, 2001, authorizes the use of force against those responsible for September 11 attack and any associated forces.
Senator Chuck Schumer expressed fears that the US Republicans may ‘bumble into a war’ with Iran.
He called for a “robust, open debate”, where Congress should “have a real say” in decision making, adding that congressional approval should have to be granted to fund war.