WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday said he called off a military strike against Iran for shooting down an unmanned U.S. drone 10 minutes before take-off because it was not "proportionate" since it would take Iranian lives.
Trump said in tweets and an interview that his abrupt and last-minute change of mind Thursday night came after he asked how many people would die and a general answered about 150, which he decided was disproportionate for the destruction of an unmanned drone.
"I thought about it for a second and I said, you know what, they shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it, and here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead," Trump said in an NBC "Meet the Press" interview.
"And I didn't like it," he said. "I didn't think, I didn't think it was proportionate."
Noting the military had been "cocked and loaded" to launch a strike, Trump said no planes were in the air when he scrapped the mission, though they were close to taking off against one of three targets in Iran chosen by the Pentagon.
The U.S. military operation was called off around 7:30 p.m. Washington time, after Trump had spent most of Thursday discussing Iran strategy with top national security advisers and congressional leaders.
During a day on Thursday of consulting with his top aides and the Pentagon, as well as members of Congress, Trump wavered publicly between a swift and harsh response and giving Iran the benefit of the doubt by musing about whether the Iranian action was a mistake or done by a rogue military officer.
The aborted attack came amid Trump's campaign to increase economic pressure on Iran after he pulled out of the 2015 international agreement to limit the Iranian nuclear development program, a deal he has criticized repeatedly.
Trump said Friday morning that he is “in no hurry” to carry out a response to Iran, and added, “Sanctions are biting & more added last night.”
Trump's action, and his public disclosure of his decision-making, alarmed Democrats, who questioned why he did not know of the collateral damage that would take lives until the last minute.
It also worried some Republicans, who said they worried that his failure to follow through with the strike could embolden Iran, though Trump also drew support for his action from some of his party's lawmakers.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters on Capitol Hill that she did not get any "heads up" that a strike was imminent, though she and other lawmakers had been told the president was considering a range of options.
“We are in an extremely dangerous and sensitive situation with Iran,” Pelosi said Friday. “We must calibrate a response that de-escalates and advances American interests, and we must be clear as to what those interests are.”
Pelosi said that given the amount of "collateral damage" the attack would have been "very provocative," adding, "I’m glad the president did not take that" action.
But she added he must get approval from Congress before launching such a military action.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking House Republican, on Friday compared Trump's reversal on attacking Iran with President Barack Obama’s failure to fulfill his threat to launch a strike on Syria if it crossed a "red line" by using chemical weapons on its citizens.
“Weakness is provocative,” she said on Hugh Hewitt's radio show. “A world in which response to attacks on American assets is to pull back or to accept the attack is a world in which America won’t be able to successfully defend our interests.”
Meanwhile, an Iranian media outlet on Friday released an image of what Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps claimed was pieces of the drone that it shot down on Thursday, according to news reports.
Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the aerospace force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, told reporters that some parts of the downed U.S. drone were recovered from Iranian territorial waters near the Kooh Mubarak area, CNN reported, citing Iran's Tasnim news agency.
Iran chose not to target a U.S. spy plane with about 35 crew members that was flying close to the unmanned U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone that was shot down, according Hajizadeh, who spoke to reporters Friday, The Associated Press reported.
Tensions had been building between the United States and Iran since mines damaged Japanese and Norwegian oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz on June 13. The United States and Saudi Arabia blame Iran. Iran denies it was responsible.
The United States has vowed to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, yet the Federal Aviation Administration also barred American-registered aircraft — including major commercial airlines — from flying over parts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.