On the same night the US killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, the US unsuccessfully targeted another senior Iranian military official in Yemen, according to a US official with knowledge of the events and another source familiar.
The sources would not give any details about the mission or how the US had attempted to carry it out. The US official said to the best of their knowledge there is no broader operation to decapitate the IRGC-Quds force leadership at this time.
The Washington Post was first to report the operation took place.
According to the Post, the Iranian target was Abdul Reza Shahlai, a financier and key commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
In December, State Department Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook announced the administration was offering “up to $15 million for information on the financial activities, networks, and associates of Abdul Reza Shahlai.”
“We have seen the report of a January 2 airstrike in Yemen, which is long-understood as a safe space for terrorists and other adversaries to the United States. The Department of Defense does not discuss alleged operations in the region,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich in a statement.
Despite the Pentagon’s assertion, the Department of Defense and US Central Command have routinely issued on-the-record statements about US strikes in Yemen.
The news of an additional operation comes as top US national security officials have continued to defend the Trump administration’s claim that it killed Soleimani in response to an impending threat to American lives, but the lack of evidence provided to lawmakers and the public has fueled lingering skepticism about whether the strike was justified.
“Congress needs answers. What was the full extent of the Trump administration’s plans to kill Iranian officials? How does the attempted killing in Yemen have anything to do with an imminent threat?” Democrat Rep. Ro Khanna of California tweeted Friday reacting to the news.
The Pentagon has blamed Soleimani and the Quds Force for attacks on coalition bases in Iraq in recent months, including the December 27 strike that killed an American contractor and Iraqi personnel. Solemaini was also blamed for the December 31 US Embassy attack in Baghdad, and the US military said he was responsible for killing hundreds in his time as a commander and wounding thousands more.
The US military has conducted airstrikes targeting the Yemen based affiliates of al Qaeda and ISIS and has also at times deployed small counterterrorism teams on the ground to target those terrorist groups.
The US military has also collected intelligence on Houthi rebels in Yemen with the aim of helping to safeguard against Houthi missile and drone attacks on America’s partners in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The US has long accused Iran of supplying the Houthis with missiles and other sophisticated weapons that they have used in those attacks.