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Illustration by Security Management

United States Launched Drone Strike to Kill Iranian General

The United States assassinated Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, in a drone strike outside Baghdad International Airport on Thursday night.

Soleimani had traveled to Baghdad to show support to local militia forces that are acting to counter protesters who are demonstrating against the Iranian regime. After his flight arrived in Baghdad, Soleimani was in a car being transported from the airport when the drone strike occurred. He and five other individuals were killed.

“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement explaining the United States conducted the drone strike. “General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months—including the attack on December 27th—culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.”

The death of Soleimani marks an escalation in tensions between Iran and the United States, which have been simmering for months. Soleimani was in charge of Iranian intelligence gathering efforts, covert military operations, and was thought to be close to Ayatollah Khamenei—who may be the future leader of Iran. Some officials have raised concerns that killing Soleimani will result in a “very serious backlash,” according to The New York Times.

“This is something that is going to make it very difficult for our diplomatic presence there, our military presence there,” said U.S. Representative Andy Kim (D-NJ), former National Security Council director for Iraq under the Obama administration.

Both Israel and the United States are braced for a possible retaliation for killing Soleimani, which could include cyberattacks. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a statement in June 2019 that it was aware of an increase in malicious cyberactivity directed at U.S. industries and government agencies by Iranian regime actors and proxies.

CISA Director Chris Krebs reshared that statement on his Twitter feed Thursday night, citing the recent developments.

“Bottom line: time to brush up on Iranian TTPs and pay close attention to your critical systems, particularly [industrial control systems],” Krebs tweeted. “Make sure you’re also watching third party access!”

Embassies are also on high alert following the death of Soleimani and the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad last week. Pro-Iranian militia attacked the embassy after a U.S. air raid on Kataib Hezbollah militia.

Some embassies, however, may not be prepared should an emergency necessitate an evacuation or swift response. In previous reporting for Security Management in 2017, Mark Tarallo found that U.S. overseas posts only completed about 52 percent of required emergency preparedness drills.

His analysis found that emergency action plans “are viewed as lengthy and cumbersome documents that are not readily usable in emergency situation,” according to a watchdog report. “Taken together, the gaps in [the U.S. State Department’s] crisis and evacuation preparedness increase the risk that post staff are not sufficiently prepared to handle crisis and emergency situations.”

U.S. lawmakers also are divided on the Trump administration’s decision to launch a drone strike to kill Soleimani without Congressional input or authorization.

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that Congress “must be immediately briefed on this serious situation and on the next steps under consideration by the administration, including the significant escalation of the deployment of additional troops to the region,” according to The Washington Post. “America—and the world—cannot afford to have tensions escalate to the point of no return.”