Leader of Iran's elite Quds Force killed in US airstrike near Baghdad airport

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Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AFP/Getty Images Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AFP/Getty Images

Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force, was killed late Thursday in a U.S. airstrike that targeted a convoy near the airport in Baghdad.

Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis also died in the airstrike, Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq's Popular Mobilization Forces umbrella grouping of Iran-backed militias, confirmed to ABC News.

The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed in a statement to ABC News it was responsible for the attack.

"At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization," the statement read. "General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region."

Soleimani and the Quds Force, according to the Department of Defense, "were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months -- including the attack on December 27th -- culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel."

The strike "was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans," the statement continued. "The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world."

Reuters earlier had reported the deaths of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, citing al-Assadi.

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