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How the U.S. killed Soleimani

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The Americans were waiting for him.

Armed with a tip from informants at the airport in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the CIA knew exactly when a jet carrying Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani took off en route to Baghdad. Intelligence from Israel helped confirm the details.

Once the Cham Wings Airlines Airbus A320 landed, American spies at Iraq’s main airport, which houses U.S. military personnel, confirmed its exact whereabouts.

Three American drones moved into position overhead, with no fear of challenge in an Iraqi airspace completely dominated by the U.S. military. Each was armed with four Hellfire missiles.

This account of how the United States took out Soleimani is based on interviews with two people directly familiar with the details of the operation, as well as other American officials who were briefed on it.

On large screens, various U.S. officials watched as an Iraqi militia leader walked up a set of stairs to greet the leader of Iran’s Quds Force as he emerged from the airplane.

It was past 1 in the morning, so the black and white infrared imagery wasn’t very clear. No faces could be seen.

The men on the ground had no idea that their lives were now to be measured in minutes.

CIA Director Gina Haspel was observing from agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was watching from another location. Another feed was on view in the White House, but President Donald Trump was in Florida at the time.

The imagery showed two senior figures get into a sedan, which pulled away. The rest of the entourage climbed into a minivan, which sped to catch up.

The drones followed as the vehicles began moving to exit the airport. Signals intelligence specialists sought to hone in on the cellphones of the occupants to confirm their identities. Years of mapping and terrain information from satellites was available on the screens of the drone operators.

Other vehicles passed occasionally, but traffic was light. The minivan pulled ahead of the sedan.

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At U.S. Central Command forward headquarters in Qatar, from where the operation was being run, there were no significant doubts about who was inside those vehicles.

Those watching could see the missiles strike, a manmade bolt from the sky. The vehicles were engulfed in a fireball. In total, four missiles were fired. There were no survivors.

Soleimani, who had helped kill Americans for more than a decade, was no more.

U.S. military officials watched a live feed of the strikes at various locations around the world. Despite the successful operation, the reaction was somber as the gravity of the attack set in and the officials contemplated what response it could unleash.

It was an operation utterly unremarkable for any technical or intelligence wizardry. It’s remarkable, rather, for how routine such lethal actions have become.

The targeted killing is the latest demonstration of how, two decades after the CIA spotted but was unable to kill a man they believed was al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, the U.S. has become adept at hunting and killing its enemies, particularly in the troubled regions of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.

“In less than a generation, we went from something that was abnormal and maybe even science fiction, to the point where it’s the new normal,” Peter Singer, an expert on future warfare at the New America Foundation, said. “Both leaders and the public don’t even blink an eye.”

Targeted strikes like the one that killed Soleimani represent a fundamental change in warfare, said Anthony Cordesman, who studies military trends at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“It requires a truly immense intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance effort — one which basically no other country in the world can match, and which is vastly expensive, time-consuming and requires lot of expertise.”

The only thing different about Soleimani was that he was a state actor, a senior official of another government. For that reason, and in light of the expected retaliation from Iran, this strike has proven far more controversial than others. But as a technical matter, experts say, it was fairly straightforward.

Soleimani, long a shadowy presence in the Middle East, had ventured into public view in recent years, posing for pictures in Iraq and elsewhere as he plotted strategy to counter U.S. interests. So he wasn’t nearly as hard to find as bin Laden, who was hiding in Pakistan when he was killed in 2011, or the Islamic State militant group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed in Syria during a U.S. raid in October after a yearslong manhunt.

Still, it’s not as if the Iranian put his name on passenger manifests. Tracking his travels took some doing, and knowing exactly where he would be was an intelligence feat, officials say. So was killing him in a way that risked no civilian casualties.

“These things are tricky,” one former special operator familiar with what happened said. “There is a lot that can go wrong.”

At the Baghdad airport, Soleimani was greeted by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of an Iraqi anti-American militia and a suspect in the bombing of the American and French embassies in Kuwait in 1983. Al-Muhandis got into the sedan with Soleimani and he, too, was killed in the strike.

The drones that followed the convoy are not silent, but in an urban environment like Baghdad, the sound they make is not easily discernible, officials say. There was no hint that the men in the vehicles knew they were being targeted.

The Iraqi government was not pleased by the news that the U.S. killed an official of a neighboring state on its territory without consultation. Two Iraqi security officials told Reuters that they are investigating the role of suspected U.S. informants at the Baghdad airport.

Syrian intelligence is investigating two employees of Cham Wings Airlines, Reuters reported.

U.S. officials told NBC News that they had been closely tracking Soleimani’s movements across the region for days. The Trump administration says he was planning attacks against Americans, though they have not released any evidence.

“We had specific information on an imminent threat,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a Friday news conference at the White House. “And those threats included attacks on U.S. embassies. Period, full stop.”

Iranian officials have said that Wednesday’s missile strikes against U.S. troops in Iraq, which caused no casualties, will be the end of their retaliation for the killing of their general. But U.S. intelligence officials don’t believe that.

“If I were a U.S. ambassador, I wouldn’t be starting my own car for the foreseeable future,” one officials said.

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EU digs its heels in: Brussels blames Britain for no progress – ‘Not our fault!’

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BRUSSELS has continued its assault on the UK for the lack of progress made in the current Brexit talks between the two sides.

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Senate Republicans cool to 2nd round of stimulus checks, direct deposits

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WASHINGTON — Democrats want another round of direct stimulus payments to Americans up to $1,200 as coronavirus cases rise in dozens of states. President Donald Trump isn’t ruling it out. But Senate Republicans are on the fence or opposed, complicating its prospects.

“I wasn’t supportive of the first round. I don’t think I’d be supportive of the second,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. “This is not a classic recession that requires financial stimulus.”

House Democrats have passed a $3 trillion bill that includes another round of direct deposits and checks. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has endorsed that bill nudged Senate Republicans on Thursday to “get off their hands and finally work with Democrats to quickly provide additional federal fiscal relief.”

Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Republicans are divided on whether to send more money to Americans when asked about Trump’s interest in a second round of payments.

“About direct payments or some of the checks — that’s something he’s talked about, and some of our members are interested in that as well. There are some of our members who aren’t interested in that, so we’ll see where that goes,” the South Dakota Republican said.

Thune said Republicans would still need to agree “on a number” and other components of it.

The Senate left on Thursday for a two-week recess.

Coronavirus cases have risen in states like Florida, Texas, Arizona and California — numerous states have paused or rolled back their reopening. The state of the economy over those two weeks is likely to impact the Senate Republican calculus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., outlined three broad priorities for the next coronavirus relief bill: “Kids, jobs and health care.” He said he wants it to pass before August, which leaves just two weeks to act once the Senate returns from break on July 20.

Asked by Fox Business Network if he favors another round of direct payments, Trump said, “I do. I support it. But it has to be done properly.” He then segued to discussing unemployment insurance.

Asked again if he wants more direct payments, Trump responded, “I want the money getting to people to be larger so they can spend it,” before saying he doesn’t want it to be “an incentive not to go to work,” an apparent reference to the $600 weekly jobless benefit in the CARES Act that Republicans don’t want to extend.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said the “direct stimulus checks are going to depend on how the economy is doing” and noted the “great unemployment numbers” of June, when the rate fell to 11.1 percent.

“So if it turns out the economy is recovering, that’s a good thing and direct stimulus checks may not be necessary,” he added.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said the Senate will “talk seriously and in earnest when we get back” about what might be in the next relief bill, mentioning the rising debt as a concern for the GOP.

“If there is another bill, it will be targeted,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully, we’ll learn from our first three bills in terms of what works and what doesn’t. The subtext, or the undercurrent, here at least on my side of the aisle is the fact that we owe $25 trillion and climbing.”

The first round of stimulus payments cost $293 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

Surveys show they’re popular among voters as the Nov. 3 general election nears. A CNBC/Change Research poll conducted in early May found 74 percent approval for sustained direct payments in the 2020 battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

A FT-Peterson US Economic Monitor poll showed that 76 percent of Americans say an additional payment is “very” or “somewhat” important to them, while 24 percent said it was not. The results were nearly identical when limited to battleground states.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who faces a competitive re-election battle this fall, was noncommittal when asked about another round of stimulus checks and direct deposits.

“We need to look at it, the jobs numbers. I want to see Iowa and how we’re doing at getting folks back to work. And we’ll take it from there,” she told NBC News.

Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.



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Verhofstadt told to 'keep his nose out' after attack on UK plan to end freedom of movement

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GUY Verhofstadt has stirred up more rage among Brexiteers on social media after taking another swipe at Home Secretary Priti Patel over the Government’s plans to end freedom of movement.

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