Donald Trump reportedly gave initial approval for the US military to launch strikes on Iran in retaliation for Tehran shooting down an American drone, before pulling back at the last minute.
Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down on Thursday night, the New York Times quoted an unnamed official as saying.
Trump signed off on the plans after consulting with national security and congressional officials, and military leaders reportedly expected the strike to play out.
The attack was nixed as late as 7:00 pm local time, The Times reported.
US officials reportedly wanted to minimize the casualties in the strike. Officials were said to have planned to strike before dawn on Friday and chose to target radar and missile batteries.
The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off, a senior administration official said. Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down, the official said.
It was not clear whether Mr. Trump simply changed his mind on the strikes or whether the administration altered course because of logistics or strategy. It was also not clear whether the attacks might still go forward.
The UK was informed of the US plan for the attack and not told the reprisal raids were off until 3am UK time (10pm ET).
President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that Iran made a “very big mistake” when its forces shot down a US drone.
President Donald Trump on Thursday said the public would “soon find out” if the US would launch a military strike against Iran after it shot down a US Navy drone.
But the president also said he found it “hard to believe” that the downing of the drone was “intentional,” despite the fact Iran claimed responsibility. He floated the possibility an Iranian general made a “mistake” in shooting down the drone.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS-D) aircraft, specifically a RQ-4A Global Hawk High-Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drone that costs $123 million and was designed to be largely invulnerable to attack.
Iran claimed the drone entered its airspace, but the Trump administration maintains the unmanned aircraft was operating in international airspace and characterized the incident as an “unprovoked attack.”
The incident marked the first direct Iranian-claimed attack on US assets and came amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran, triggered by Trump’s decision to withdraw from an international accord that curbed Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The downing of the drone was also the latest in an escalating series of incidents in the Gulf since mid-May, including suspected attacks on six oil tankers that the US blamed on Iran.