(CNN) — Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday he believes Iran intended to kill US troops in the ballistic missile attack on US forces in Iraq, echoing the nation’s top general but contradicting a belief among some Trump administration officials that Iran intentionally missed areas populated by Americans.
“The ballistic missiles fired at American bases…we believe were intended to kill Americans. We have intelligence to support that was the intention of the Iranians,” Pence said during an interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie.
Pressed by Guthrie, the vice president said it was “not at all” risky to let Iran take the shot. He said the US response at the bases was not “simply hunkering down,” noting that the US military repositioned personnel and assets, ultimately avoiding any casualties.
Pence’s comments match Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley’s assessment Wednesday.
“I believe, based on what I saw and what I know, that they were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel. That’s my own personal assessment,” Milley told reporters Wednesday.
Pence and Milley’s message runs counter to what some administration officials have suggested to CNN, which is that Iran could have directed their missiles to hit areas that are populated by Americans but intentionally did not. And those officials said Iran may have chosen to send a message rather than take significant enough action to provoke a substantial US military response, a possible signal the administration was looking for rationale to calm the tensions.
Iran fired a number of missiles aimed at the bases in retaliation for the American strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani last week, further escalating tensions between the two countries. Officials have said there were no US casualties as a result of the attacks, though a full assessment is under way.
Iranian missiles also landed close to the US consulate in Erbil, but didn’t target the consulate itself, though the belief is that they could have.
“We could have done it and we didn’t do it,” is the message Iranians appeared to be sending, a State Department official said.
The US gave Iran the “opportunity to do what they needed to do and not escalate by killing Americans,” the official said, suggesting how the administration could frame the retaliation. This was “a smart move” by the Iranians who demonstrated that they had “more to lose” if they killed Americans.
During another morning show appearance, Pence said that the US would be in a “very different place” with Iran if airstrikes had resulted in American casualties.
“President Trump made it clear internally and to the world that there would be a strong military response, even a disproportionate response, if American lives were lost. We’d be in a very different place today if those missiles had hit their intended target,” he told Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”