At 1:45 a.m. local time on January 8, Iraqi time (6:45 a.m. Beijing time, 17:45 a.m. EDT), the Iranian military met with its senior general Suleimani on January 3 At the same time, the attack on two US military bases in Iraq was launched.
Eighteen hours later, US President Trump issued a statement at the White House, saying that the U.S. military base in Iraq had been attacked from Iran the previous day, but there were no casualties and announced that new sanctions would be imposed on Iran.
CNN commented that Trump's statement hinted that there would be no "military response" to Iran.
Trump delivered a national television speech.
During these 18 hours, has there been contact between the United States and Iran? Why did Trump postpone a public statement that was scheduled to take place immediately? How did the highest levels of the US government make a decision not to escalate conflict? On the 9th, CNN and The New York Times restored this thrilling 18-hour inside story through interviews with dozens of Trump administration officials, foreign diplomats, and important members of Congress. (Unless otherwise specified, the time in this article is Eastern Time, with a time difference of 8 hours from Iraq.)
Around 17:30: Receive urgent notification
On the afternoon of the 7th, Brian Hook, the United States Special Representative for Iranian Affairs, was on the stage of a diplomatic event in Los Angeles in preparation for a speech on US Iranian policy. Just a few minutes after the speech began, he received an urgent notice. Hook hurriedly ended his speech and stepped down.
US media said that at that time, US intelligence satellites detected signals from Iran, indicating that the country had just launched its first short-range ballistic missile. U.S. intelligence analysts used information from satellites in the area and U.S. reconnaissance aircraft to quickly identify two bases in Iraq, such as Al Ain Assad and Erbil, as targets for missile attacks. Within minutes, U.S. forces stationed there received warnings.
Another person familiar with the matter revealed to CNN that earlier in the afternoon, the United States had received a “reminder” from the Iraqi government that these bases were already on high alert and that military personnel of the bases were hiding in the bunker.
According to Al Jazeera, the Iraqi military subsequently confirmed that the country was attacked by 22 missiles between 1:45 and 2:15 in the morning (17:45 to 18:15 EST on the 7th). Seventeen missiles landed at Al Ain Assad base, two of which did not explode, and the other five landed in Erbil.
A month ago, Hook just launched a rare "prison exchange" operation on behalf of the US government in Switzerland with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Just as people speculated whether the US-Iranian relationship in the trough would "thaw" as a result of this "change of prisoners" operation, on January 3, Qasim Sulai, commander of the "Holy City Brigade" under the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Manny was killed by U.S. forces at Baghdad airport in Iraq. Subsequently, Iran vowed to "severely retaliate."
Around 18:30: Trump and Burns brief members of the two parties separately
Less than an hour after the attack, members of both parties in the United States Congress received a briefing. House Speaker and Democrat Pelosi was discussing Iran's situation with some Democratic leaders. According to the MPs present at the time, Pelosi, who was informed of the news, suspended the discussion and informed the MPs of the sudden situation.
Not long after, Pelosi spoke with Vice President Pence, who briefed Pelosi on the Iranian attack. At the same time, Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Senate Minority Party (Democrats), also received a call from Burns and was briefed on the attack. Meanwhile, Republican leaders received briefings directly from Trump.
19:00: Pentagon attempts to contact Iraqi Prime Minister
At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Esper met with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior defense officials immediately after being informed of the attack. Esper's office tried to contact Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi. Just a few days ago, Abdul-Mahdi also criticized the U.S. drone attack on Suleimani "a flagrant violation of U.S. military conditions in Iraq."
At first, the Pentagon's phone call to Abdul-Mahdi's office failed. At that time, it was around 7 a.m. Eastern Time (3 a.m. Baghdad). According to a person familiar with the matter, the US contacted the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, who managed to contact the leaders in Iraq. After making a few phone calls, Esper went to the White House for an emergency meeting with Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
19:30: Officials gather to meet in White House War Room
Before 19:30, Esper, Milly, and Secretary of State Pompeo arrived at the White House in succession. Soon, a group of senior government officials gathered in the White House theater. In addition to Trump, Pence, Pompeo, Esper, and Milly, there are National Security Advisors Robert O'Brien, Acting National Intelligence Director Joseph Maguire, and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Marwani, White House legal counsel Pat Sipolon and press secretary Stephanie Grisham were also present, and CIA Director Gina Haspel attended the conference call.
Trump and senior government officials are discussing the situation in Iran in the White House war room. Screenshot
The first goal of the meeting was to find out if any Americans had been killed in the air strike. A senator who spoke to Trump told CNN that even if there was only one American casualty, Trump seemed ready to fight back at Iran's facilities at the time.
However, preliminary investigations showed that the Americans suffered little casualties in the attack, and those present at the scene described a sense of "restraint" in the war room. A White House official said that although a counterattack was proposed against Iran that night, Trump decided to wait until more information on Iran's intentions and local conditions came out.
The source said that the initial response in the war room was surprised, because Iran ’s number of missiles fired during the attack was “so small,” and all parties had expected Iran to fight back, so when the attack happened Later people have a sense of calm instead. Many U.S. officials initially believed that the Iranian attack was more "signaling" than trying to kill Americans. A source pointed out that the accuracy with which the Iranians used ballistic missiles in the past was by no means the standard shown in the attack. It is reported that one third of Iranian missiles missed the target this time. But this statement runs counter to the information the Iraqi military has released.
According to a person familiar with the matter, within hours of the attack, Trump made it clear that he wanted to make a public speech, so his aides immediately began to formulate an emergency plan to address the country. Drafted by consultant Stephen Miller. Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior White House adviser, is also among those who support Trump's speech. CNN said that previously, Trump regretted that he did not speak to the country in time after the killing of Suleimani, and feared that he had missed an opportunity to shape his own image.
Around 21:00: Republicans call for negotiations
Republican leaders keep getting updates from the White House, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman and Senator James Inhofer. Some sources said the overall message Republicans conveyed to the White House was restraint, "it's time to ease the situation."
Finally, White House officials said Trump would not deliver a national speech that night. According to several Republican aides who were interviewed by CNN, the news spread that MPs were "relieved." Earlier CNN reported that after the attack, the White House planned to let Trump deliver a national speech that evening at US time.
Trump began talking to several Republican lawmakers, including Inhof. He told CNN that Trump's mood was "very, very positive" and he expressed willingness to negotiate with Iran. Inhofer agreed, and told Trump that this was an opportunity not only to ease the situation but also to start negotiations.
21:45: Trump tweets
"Everything is fine! Iran fires missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq. Casualties and damage assessments are being conducted. So far, everything has gone smoothly! So far, we have the world's most powerful and well-equipped army I will make a statement tomorrow morning. "Trump wrote on Twitter.
All night: US-Iran secret contact
However, the game of the night was far from over.
According to a senior US government official, from late 7th to 8th morning, Iran has contacted the Trump administration through at least three channels, including through Switzerland and other countries. The message from Iran is said to be clear: the attack will be the "only response" from Iran (to the attack on Suleimani), and they will now wait to see what the United States will do.
In its response to Iran, the United States stated that it is fully aware that Iran controls agents in the Middle East. The source told CNN that Iran is trying to "put aside its responsibilities", but the United States has made it clear that it does not believe this statement.
At about 1:00 am Eastern Time on the 8th, the battlefield assessment results revealed that there were no US casualties. National Security Council staff worked overnight in the White House to develop a response plan, including plans to sanction Iran. In the early morning of the 8th, all parties met with Trump again to report the latest progress to him. It was then that Trump made the final decision, deciding to respond to sanctions, and said he would no longer consider escalating the conflict further.
"They have retreated, and now we will retreat," said a senior government official.
11:30 on the 8th: late Trump statement
Subsequently, Trump began to modify his own speech. The White House had originally planned to let Trump speak to the whole country at 11:00 EST on the 8th (Beijing time on the 8th, 8th), but Trump's advisers have been in Weighing the speech draft delayed the speech by almost half an hour.
At 11:30, Pence, Pompeo, Esper, Milli and several senior national security officers in military uniform stood on both sides of the podium in the White House lobby covered in red carpet. The wooden door behind them subsequently opened, and Trump finally appeared in the live broadcast of the media.
"As long as I am the President of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to possess nuclear weapons." Trump used this as an opening statement and set the tone for his ten-minute statement. Trump said that the Iranian attack on the U.S. military base in Iraq the previous day had no casualties and that the United States would impose new sanctions on Iran.
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