Trump’s Illegal Drone Strike on Iranian General Led to Award for British Troops

A secretive team of British troops based in Bahrain played a key role in the tense aftermath of the U.S. assassination of Qasem Soleimani, Phil Miller reports. 

Demonstrations in Iran over the killing of Qassem Soleimani. (Fars News Agency, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Phil Miller
Declassified UK

The assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimaniordered by President Donald Trump in January 2020, brought Iran and the West to the brink of war.

A UN expert said the killing was illegal under international law and Iranian officials demanded revenge.

Soleimani was one of Iran’s top commanders, leading the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force on military missions in the Middle East.

It can now be revealed that a secretive team of British troops based in Bahrain, which is 190km from Iran, played a key role in a “period of increased activity and tension that followed the death” of Soleimani.

Their efforts were quietly recognized in November with a commendation from the Royal Air Force (RAF), but the announcement did not mention the Soleimani strike. Instead it simply stated the location of their unit: Muharraq, a U.S. military base in Bahrain.

Little is known about the presence of British troops at Muharraq, and no other details of their award were published until a freedom of information request by Declassified UK forced further disclosure.

We have obtained a summary of the award citation – the full version remains classified to prevent “a potential enemy wishing to attack the UK” from gaining “sensitive information” on the movement of British troops.

The summary shows U.K. military commanders regarded the assassination’s aftermath as “arguably the most dynamic and intense situation faced by Naval Forces in recent years.”

Soleimani’s death on Jan. 3 created “a period of increased activity and tension” which saw four members of the RAF and three from the Royal Navy dispatched to Muharraq.

Iran’s Qasem Soleimani (left) with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (right), an Iraqi commander, in 2017 in Tehran. They were both killed by a U.S. targeted drone strike in 2020. (Fars News Agency, CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Over the next nine days they provided logistical support to U.K. and U.S. forces “who were deployed into the central Arabian Gulf.”

The Muharraq team “were tasked to deliver vital operational and high priority related stores and coordinate the transfer of personnel to and from ships at sea.”

As a matter of “urgency,” they secured “load space on a US Sea Dragon helicopter and helped to establish key lines of communications to vital assets.”

The Sea Dragon is a heavy-lift, long-range aircraft.

Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German told Declassified UK: “The assassination of Qasem Soleimani brought us very near to war with Iran, a war which would have had bloody consequences across the whole region. 

“This revelation shows the involvement of British troops in its aftermath – something which has never been divulged publicly here in Britain.” 

She added: “This lack of transparency is typical of the way in which British forces – and by implication the British government – operate in the region, but it also demonstrates the way that the demonisation of and increasing confrontation with Iran depends on these sorts of covert and illegal operations. 

“All those who campaign against war in the Middle East must demand a full public explanation of British troops’ involvement.”

World War 3

U.S. paratroopers deploy to the Middle East following the Baghdad airstrike, Jan. 4, 2020. (U.S. Army/Hubert Delany, Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. assassination of Iran’s most high-profile military officer caused the phrase “World War 3” to trend on Twitter, such was the concern that Britain, Russia and China could all be drawn into the crisis.

According to The New York Times, the U.S. had “plans to strike a command-and-control ship and conduct a cyber attack to partly disable Iran’s oil and gas sector” if the situation escalated after the assassination.

Trump claimed to have approved a list of 52 targets in Iran, including cultural sites, that he said “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

Meanwhile Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and a major base for British minesweepers, could have been among the first set of targets for Iran’s short-range missiles.

U.S. Navy’s Coastal Command Boat lowered into water in its homeport of Bahrain, 2014. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Felicito Rustique)

U.S. Navy’s Coastal Command Boat gets lowered into its homeport of Bahrain, 2014. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Felicito Rustique)

Fearing they might be caught in the crossfire, Britain withdrew some of its non-essential troops from Iraq, while boosting its naval presence in the Gulf to protect British-flagged oil tankers – a task which the Muharraq team most likely assisted.

Although Iran did retaliate with a rocket attack on a US military base in Iraq, tensions fell after Tehran tragically shot down a passenger airline it mistook for an incoming missile.

What is Muharraq?

Muharraq is a former British air base dating back to Bahrain’s time as a U.K. “protectorate” (or colony). It is now run by the U.S. navy.

During the first Gulf War in 1991, British pilots flew from Muharraq to bomb Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq. 

That conflict, known as Operation Granby, appears to be the last time U.K. military personnel have earned awards from operations in Muharraq, until the Soleimani strike.

Last May, MPs were told that it costs the taxpayer £270,000 a year to keep British troops at Muharraq — however, that information has since been removed from the Parliament website in an apparent technical glitch.

Police stations near the base are notoriously used for torturing critics of the Bahraini regime, which is one of the most repressive in the region, and a close British ally. 

The issue of torture recently generated controversy when British Home Secretary Priti Patel visited a police facility in Muharraq.

Bahrain is ruled by a dictator, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. He does not tolerate press freedom or dissent, and liquidated the largest opposition party, Al Wefaq.

Ali Alaswad, a senior figure in Al Wefaq, told Declassified UK that Britain should obtain “the approval of the people” of Bahrain to have military bases in the country.

He expressed concern at the threat to Bahrainis “in the event that the British navy wages an offensive war against any of the [neighbouring] countries through Bahraini lands or from its territorial waters.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “Qassem Soleimani posed a threat to all our interests and was responsible for a pattern of disruptive, destabilising behaviour in the region.

“Following Qassem Soleimani’s death, we urged all sides to de-escalate, exercise restraint and prevent further conflict.” 

Phil Miller is staff reporter at Declassified UK, an investigative journalism organisation that covers the U.K.’s role in the world.

This article is from Declassified UK.

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7 comments for “Trump’s Illegal Drone Strike on Iranian General Led to Award for British Troops

  1. John R
    March 26, 2021 at 20:42

    The assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, ordered by President Donald Trump in January 2020, brought Iran and the West to the brink of war.

    I dream that Iran or a proxy can return the favor.

  2. jdd
    March 26, 2021 at 08:47

    The Soleimani assassination marked a serious turn in President Trump’s foreign policy toward the insane ravings of Sec. of State Pompeo, unfortunately now being repeated by his successor, Antony Blinken. Not only was Soleimani revered in Iran and Iraq, but was perhaps the most effective general in the fight against ISIS, not against American troops, with whom he often coordinated action.

  3. James Simpson
    March 26, 2021 at 04:12

    The blithe arrogance with which our militarised ruling classes treat the people and land of other nations is still shocking no matter how many times I read of it. There is, obviously, a double standard: no foreign state apart from the USA is permitted to use its military forces on British soil. These British troops bear their own responsibility for their actions; I don’t regard them as without knowledge or understanding of what they do against the ordinary people of the Middle East. The RAF in the UK still has a reputation for ethical behaviour and even heroism in a white-saviour narrative upheld by the entire corporate media, yet it is actively supporting the war against the poor of Yemen, for example, as well as operating to keep the torturous, repressive Bahraini regime in power. Medals for them? I’d put them in a cell.

    • Anne
      March 26, 2021 at 12:39

      I couldn’t agree more…And sheer and utter hypocrisy and hubris of the UK govt and its military (of course, one should also include the US equivalents) together with their complete barbarism and lack of any scruples, including the individual military personnel is Mind Blowing…And the Brits and the Americans have to Nerve to point the finger at other govts, peoples, cultures???? No other countries (and I include all of Britain not just the English portion) have genocidally ethnically cleansed, enslaved, tortured, deliberately and permanently displaced, bombed, killed, devastated as many peoples and countries as these two malignancies…

      But hey, it makes oodles of boodle for those such as Raytheon, Boeing, BAE etc……….And lines plenty of politico pockets and those of merciless shareholders, too…

  4. susan mullen
    March 26, 2021 at 02:22

    Without the poisonous UK/US partnership the world might have a chance. Before the duo bombs anyone, it achieves its first goal which to silence Americans and enslave them to the genocide industry. We’re not allowed to thrive. Even depraved interventionist Robert Kagan has realized that the US is finished-which he can’t allow. Kagan says the solution is the US should carry out even more brutal foreign interventions so those “at home” will supposedly think, wow, USA, USA. UK and US deserve to be charged with crimes against humanity, but I don’t know who could bring the charges or in what court.

    • Bruce Dickson
      March 26, 2021 at 13:13

      Courts are a good idea; it’s just that they’re generally in bad hands.

    • David Otness
      March 26, 2021 at 14:20

      Interesting that—speaking of “at home,”—as Kagan and wifey Nuland and brood parked themselves in Brussels a number of years back during prime Obama / Ukraine Time; no doubt to monitor ‘things’ from inside NATO’s grotesquely envisioned and architectured HQ edifice. I guess ‘home’ is wherever your dark heart is, or perhaps, wherever evil summons. I think we can be quite certain theirs are familiar faces within those walls and halls, as well reflected from its bloodstained floors.

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