Trump orders strikes on Iran, pulls back at last minute

(CN) – President Donald Trump ordered military strikes against Iran Thursday evening in response to an American drone shot down by Iranian forces, but the president quickly reversed his decision just as U.S. forces were preparing to carry out his orders.

Administration officials said Trump approved strikes against Iranian missile batteries and radar stations before rescinding the order, first reported by The New York Times and confirmed by other media outlets.

A senior administration official told the newspaper the operation had already begun “in its early stages” when it was cancelled.

“Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down,” the Times reported.

It’s currently unclear why the president backed down from the attack, but media reports say National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo advised Trump against reversing his decision. The attack was going to occur just before dawn in order to minimize Iranian military and civilian deaths, according to The Times.

The planned strikes were meant to be in retaliation for the destruction of a $130 million surveillance drone early Thursday by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, according to an anonymous administration official. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said the drone was flying in Iranian airspace, whereas U.S. Central Command said it was flying in international waters and called it an “unprovoked attack.”

Earlier in the day, President Trump said he believed the incident could have been carried out by a rogue individual within Iran’s military forces.

“I’m not just talking about the country made a mistake,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I’m talking about somebody under the command of that country made a mistake.”

Administration officials and congressional leaders spent Thursday discussing a possible military strike, according to officials involved in the discussions. The shooting down of the drone has only heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. In 2018, President Trump pulled the United States out of a 2015 agreement to loosen sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

Democrats who attended a classified briefing in the Situation Room on Thursday asked the president to first ask Congress to authorize any attacks on Iran.

“This is a dangerous situation,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said. “We are dealing with a country that is a bad actor in the region. We have no illusions about Iran in terms of their ballistic missile transfers, about who they support in the region and the rest.”