June 21 (UPI) — President Donald Trump said Friday he’d ordered attacks against three targets in Iran late Thursday, but called them off in the final minutes over concerns that 150 civilians would be killed.
Trump approved the counterstrikes after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a U.S. drone Thursday.
“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different [sites] when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General,” Trump tweeted Friday morning.
“10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new and ready to go, by far the best in the world.”
During an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press later Friday, Trump said he had given no final order for the airstrikes. Asked if planes were in the air and prepared to carry out the strikes, he said, “no.”
“But they would have been pretty soon, and things would have happened to a point where you would not turn back, you could not turn back,” he added.
“Nothing was green lighted until the very end because things change.”
Earlier reports quoted unnamed sources saying Trump went back on his decision to retaliate against the advice of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton.
The planned strikes could have targeted Iranian surface-to-air missiles like the one used to target the drone.
Iran and the United States gave conflicting stories on what happened to the downed Navy RQ-4 drone. Tehran said it entered Iranian airspace while U.S. Central Command said it flew in international waters.
Trump gave no indication of a military strike during a speech Thursday, saying the unmanned aircraft could have been shot down without the leadership knowing.
“I find it hard to believe it was intentional,” Trump said. “Let’s see what happens. This is a new fly in the ointment — what happened, shooting down the drone — and this country will not stand for it.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, met with administration officials over the incident.
“The president may not intend to go to war here, but we’re worried that he and the administration may bumble into a war,” Schumer said.
Gen. Hossein Salami, commander of the IRGC, said shooting down the drone sent a clear, decisive, firm and accurate message.
“The message is that the guardians of the borders of Islamic Iran will decisively respond to the violation of any stranger to this land,” he said. “The only solution for the enemies is to respect the territorial integrity and national interests of Iran.”
Earlier Thursday, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order prohibiting U.S.-registered aircraft from flying over the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.