The failed airstrike in Yemen was aimed at Abdul Reza Shahlai, an official with Iran’s Quds force and key financier for Iran’s proxy wars.
By Eric Schmitt
WASHINGTON — The American military unsuccessfully tried to kill a senior Iranian in Yemen on the same day a drone strike took out Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, one of Iran’s most important commanders, according to American officials.
The disclosure of a second mission indicated that the Trump administration was attempting to target a larger set of Iranian military and paramilitary leaders than was previously known.
The unsuccessful airstrike in Yemen was aimed at Abdul Reza Shahlai, an official with Iran’s Quds Force, a potent paramilitary organization. He was known as a key financier for Iran’s proxy wars.
President Trump approved the strike against Mr. Shahlai at the same time as he authorized the strike against General Suleimani, although it is unclear if the American attack in Yemen occurred at precisely the same time.
Mr. Shahlai and General Suleimani were two of several officials the Trump administration considered striking in an effort to halt Iranian attacks on American embassies and to deter Iran from ramping up aggression in the region.
The Yemen strike was first reported Friday by The Washington Post.
The mission to kill Mr. Shahlai shows that the Trump administration was seeking to hit multiple officials from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which includes the Quds Force. Both organizations direct Iran’s proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
The successful strike in Iraq and the unsuccessful attack in Yemen were meant to knock the Guards Corps back on its heels, and some senior military and intelligence officials believed a drastic strike against the group would effectively damage Iran’s ability to direct its proxy forces.
But other officials, including intelligence officials, believed strikes against senior commanders were risky, and might have the effect of inciting the broader conflict the Trump administration said it was trying to avoid.
Members of Congress have also raised questions about intelligence the administration has used to justify the strikes on General Suleimani.
The Pentagon declined to confirm the strike. But Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, noted that Yemen “is long understood as a safe space for terrorists and other adversaries to the United States.”
The United States had offered a $15 million reward for information about Mr. Shahlai. The announcement of the reward accused him of having a long history of involvement in attacks on American allies, including a failed 2011 plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Shahlai was based in Yemen, where Iran is supporting the Houthi rebels, who are fighting forces backed by Saudi Arabia.