News and Commentary

Defense Secretary Mark Esper Reveals Soleimani Assessment He Received From Top Official
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper holds an end of year press conference at the Pentagon on December 20, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan on Sunday about a key assessment that he received from a top level U.S. intelligence official that he said was “compelling” when decisions were apparently made about the operation to take out Qassem Soleimani.

“We are safer today than we were just a few weeks ago,” Esper told CBS News. “Why? Because we took out the world’s foremost terrorist leader, Qassem Soleimani, who had the blood of hundreds of American dead service members on his hands. Secondly, we restored deterrence with Iran without any United States casualties. And, third, we reassured our partners and allies in the region that we will stand up and defend our interests.”

When asked about Trump’s comments from a Friday interview on Fox News about the terrorist attacks that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani was planning on four U.S. embassies, Esper responded, “Well, what the president said was he believed that it probably and could have been attacks against additional embassies. I shared that view. I know other members of [the] National Security Team shared that view. That’s why I deployed thousands of American paratroopers to the Middle East to reinforce our embassy in Baghdad and other sites throughout the region.”

“The description had been that this was an imminent threat to U.S. personnel and facilities in the region,” Brennan stated. “Is that a more accurate description than what the president provided?”

“We had information that there was going to be [an] attack within a matter of days that would be broad in scale, in other words, more than one country, and that it would be bigger than previous attacks, likely going to take us into open hostilities with Iran,” Esper replied.

Esper then revealed a key assessment that he received from a top U.S. intelligence official when weighing the risks of taking out Soleimani.

“In fact, a very, very senior person from the intelligence community said the risk of inaction is greater than the risk of action,” Esper said. “That was compelling for me.”

“Is that threat gone?” Brennan asked.

“That threat has been disrupted,” Esper responded. “I think what we have to find out now is continue to work to make sure that that threat is completely eliminated.”


Esper later addressed the current protests in Iran over the Ukrainian passenger plane that was shot down last week.

“If you look at what’s happening on the ground today, you have just yesterday in Tehran and other cities, Iranians chanting, ‘Death to the Ayatollah. We don’t — we don’t think America is our enemy,'” Esper added. ” You can see the — the Iranian people are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspirations for a better government, a different — a different regime. we do stand with the Iranian people. They want the same things that most people around the world want. They want prosperity. They want the ability to — to live their lives, to raise their children. And we do support those same aspirations for people wherever they are. I just think you see a very corrupt regime that the Iranian people are finally standing up and trying to hold them accountable.”