In the early morning hours of Friday, a historic U.S. drone strike killed Iran’s top covert operations general.

Major General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, was killed by an MQ-9 Reaper as he was leaving Baghdad International Airport.

The Quds Force is a rough equivalent of a combined CIA and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). It is responsible for carrying out covert operations outside Iran. Ever since the Islamic Revolution that took Iran by force in 1978, the Quds Force has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American civilians and servicemembers.

The drone strike came in the wake of continued violence against American targets in Iraq. Earlier this week, the American base in Kirkuk was attacked by Iranian militias, resulting in the deaths of one American contractor and the wounding of four warfighters. The U.S. responded with targeted strikes against Kata’ib Hezbollah targets, the Iranian-proxy organization that perpetrated the missile attacks. Iran, then, instigated a siege of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Also killed in the drone strike was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (IPMF), a Shia Muslim militant group and Iranian-proxy.

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Major General Qasem Soleimani.

The Pentagon has already sent a paratrooper battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Immediate Response Force (IRF) in the theater. Thousands more American troops are being deployed to the Middle East to defend against Iran’s retaliation.

The Trump administration’s willingness to target and kill such a high-value target gives a clear and refreshing message to Iran and other adversaries: we ain’t messing around.

Soleimani had been off-limits for years. Iran’s corrupting influence in Iraq meant that the Quds Force chief could move openly and undisturbed into Iraq. Back in 2010 when the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was tearing apart the Iraqi insurgency, Quds Force operatives and officers had been put in a “restricted targeting list” by the Iraqi government, meaning that Delta or SEAL Team 6 operators couldn’t pay them a night visit.

In 2009, a joint Ranger-SEAL strike force had apprehended a senior Quds Force commander in Baghdad International Airport, who was there to coordinate the killing of Americans, only for him to be released soon thereafter.

The Department of Defence (DoD) issued a statement following the strike:

“At the direction of the president, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.  This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.”

Now, the ball is in Iran’s court.