President Donald Trump said Friday that the United States killed an Iranian general in an airstrike "to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war."
The president said he ordered the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani because he was planning "imminent and sinister attacks."
Trump, speaking from Mar-a-Lago in Florida, added that the U.S. is "ready and prepared" for any response. He said that Gen. Qassem Soleimani "made the death of innocent people his sick passion,” and should have been hunted down years ago.
The comments came hours after news broke that the U.S. is sending nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Middle East.
Defense officials said the troops are from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They are in addition to about 700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne who deployed to Kuwait earlier this week after the storming of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters.
The reinforcements took shape as Trump gave his first comments on the strike.
The strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, Iraqi officials said.
The news came hours after the strike, but U.S. officials said the deployment was not in response to the strike, according to NBC News.
The move marked a major escalation in the standoff between Washington and Iran. Iran's supreme leader warned that a "harsh retaliation is waiting" for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the "international face of resistance." Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said on Twitter "the great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime."
Trump later said he believed Soleimani should have been "taken out many years ago" on Twitter. The president reiterated that during his Friday afternoon comments.
"He was directly and indirectly responsible for the death of millions of people, including the recent large number of protesters killed in Iran itself," he wrote.
The State Department in the meantime urged U.S. citizens to depart Iraq "immediately."