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Top Secret? Just a Handful of People Knew About US Drone Strike That Killed Soleimani – Reports

© AP PhotoQuds Force, Gen. Qasem Soleimani
Quds Force, Gen. Qasem Soleimani - Sputnik International
The 3 January US assassination of Qasem Soleimani, long-time commander of the Islamic Republic’s elite Quds Force military unit, further exacerbated the already strained ties between Washington and Tehran which have been tense since the White House’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

The magazine Newsweek has quoted several unnamed sources as saying that only a few people were in the know about the killing of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by a US MQ-9 Reaper drone in Iraq earlier this year.

According to the sources, the assassination of the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force was carried out in such secrecy that even the US military’s own spy satellites, the so-called “national technical means” (NTM), did not know about the drone’s position.

One of the sources claimed that there was “no GPS track on the MQ-9 Reaper as it made its way toward Baghdad International Airport, nor was there any indication of its flight provided to radar systems tasked with identifying friendly aircraft”.

This was echoed by Douglas Wise, a former deputy director of the Defence Intelligence Agency and a retired career officer at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who told Newsweek that he suspects “there were absolutely very few people involved” in what he described as a “highly compartmental” military operation.

“I'd be surprised that more than maybe four, five people max in Iraq were aware of this because you could imagine if it leaked you'd never get another chance”, he asserted, referring to a possible CIA role in the operation which he claimed was conducted by the Pentagon.

This standpoint was shared by James G. Zumwalt, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and current head of a security consulting firm, who argued in an interview with Newsweek that “there were puzzle pieces involved in pulling this off that necessitated both the CIA and DoD [Department of Defence] provide their piece by performing certain responsibilities accordingly”.

“The real danger to the operation's success—again my opinion—is that there is a certain danger whenever the left hand does not let the right hand know what is about to happen”, he said, suggesting that “it was imperative to limit information access only to those who needed to know”.

The CIA declined to comment on the issue, while the Pentagon has yet to respond to Newsweek’s request for comment, according to the magazine.

Assassination of Soleimani

On 3 January, a US drone strike, authorised by President Trump, killed Soleimani and Shia militia commander Abu Mahdi Muhandis who both were in a car at the Baghdad International Airport. Washington alleged that both targets were involved in an attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad in late December.

Soleimani’s assassination led to a major escalation of tensions between Tehran and Washington, with Iran officially responding by launching airstrikes against two Iraqi military bases housing US troops.

The strikes caused no deaths or serious injuries, but the Pentagon has since reported that at least 109 US servicemembers have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries.

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