COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — A U.S. air strike Thursday killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the head of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and commander of its Quds Force. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the air strikes disrupted imminent attacks and saved American lives.
The killing triggered numerous demonstrations throughout the Middle East and raised fears among some Americans of an escalation into open war with Iran.
Defense officials believe Iran is responsible for recent rocket attacks on bases of the US-lead coalition fighting ISIS. An American defense contractor was killed in one such attack last week. US fighter jets struck weapons depots in Iraq and Syria in response.
The Pikes Peak Region is home to tens of thousand of active duty members of the military and civilian defense employees making our community uniquely sensitive to world affairs the could escalate into war.
Prior to his arrival in Colorado Springs to serve as Commander of NORAD, retired Air Force General Gene Renuart he oversaw the planning and execution of all joint and allied combat in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from US Central Command in Qatar.
He said that Soleimani and the Quds Force have long been problematic, not just for the United States, but many countries in the region.
"Even in the very early days in Iraq, the Quds Force has been behind a number of the Iranian militia and targeted attacks against US military," Renuart explained.
Renuart said it was brash of Iran to send its top military commander in to Iraq to openly plan attacks with local militias. While he expects tensions to remain high after the killing, he also thinks an all out war is unlikely.
"There would have to be some very irrational calculation on the part of the Iranian government to take such an action that would almost invite a major retaliatory response from the US and other western nations," Renuart said.
Still, war fever is on the minds of many here in the Pikes Peak region including Bill Sulzman. He and a small group of demonstrators met outside of the El Paso County Courthouse Friday afternoon holding banners promoting non-violence.
"I saw the news last night and it was like a kick in the stomach," he said.
While the demonstrators bring these banners here every Friday, their message took on a deeper meaning.
"War is very popular in the short term, it makes people feel better to have a common cause, even though they don't know the reason for it," Sulzman said.
He fears the attack will lead to reprisals by both nations. The Pentagon announced the deployment of hundreds of soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division to Iraq and other allied nations in the middle east to protect
Renuart thinks there could be another path forward that avoids more bloodshed.
"The Iran nuclear deal, while we've stepped away from it, is still a pathway that could be used."
In a statement released Friday, Congressman Doug Lamborn applauded President Trump's decision to carry out the strike. He pointed out that former presidents Bush and Obama missed, "opportunities to bring Soleimani to justice, which should have been done long ago."
Mr. Lamborn, a Republican, also responded to criticisms raised by Congressional Democrats over the killing.
"Those in Congress who are carping about not being consulted beforehand did not voice those same concerns when President Obama took out Osama bin Laden without prior Congressional consultation, so there is no reason to listen to these complaints now," Rep. Lamborn wrote.
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy characterized the attack as an assassination on Twitter. New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez tweeted that the strike was, "an act of war against Iran, one that now risks the lives of millions of innocent people."
Rep. Lamborn's statement appears to directly counter the "act of war" language.
"This strike was not an 'act of war' in the constitutional sense: American troops are lawfully in Iraq, authorized by Congress, and approved by the Iraqi government," Lamborn wrote.
"General Soleimani was responsible for attacks on American forces legally present in a combat zone. They have the right to self-defense, and the U.S. government has a responsibility to defend them."