ITCT Press Release
From BBC News, CNN:
The fugitive leader of the Islamic State (IS) group has been killed in a US military operation in northwest Syria, President Donald Trump has said.
Speaking from the White House, Mr Trump said Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest after being caught at the end of a tunnel by special forces.
Baghdadi came to prominence in 2014, when he announced the creation of a “caliphate” in areas of Iraq and Syria.
IS carried out multiple atrocities that resulted in thousands of deaths.
The jihadist group imposed a brutal rule on almost eight million people in the areas under its control and was behind many attacks in cities around the world. The US declared the “caliphate” defeated earlier this year.
The killing of Baghdadi is a major victory for Mr Trump, who has been heavily criticised for his decision to pull US troops out of northern Syria earlier this month and is fighting an impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats.
In an unusual Sunday morning statement, Mr Trump said Baghdadi died after running into a dead-end tunnel in Idlib province, “whimpering, crying and screaming all the way”, as he was chased by US dogs.
Baghdadi was accompanied by three of his young children, Mr Trump said, and detonated his suicide vest, killing them all. The blast mutilated Baghdadi’s body but DNA tests confirmed his identity, the president added.
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” Mr Trump said.
What is known about the operation?
The location in Idlib province was far from where Baghdadi had been thought to be hiding along the Syria-Iraq border. Many parts of Idlib are under the control of jihadists opposed to IS but rival groups are suspected of sheltering IS militants.
Baghdadi had been under surveillance for “a couple of weeks” and several other raids had been cancelled because of his movements, the president said, describing the location as a “compound”.
No US soldiers had been killed but a number of Baghdadi’s followers also died while others were captured, Mr Trump said, adding that “highly sensitive material and information” had been gathered.
A resident in Barisha, where the raid reportedly took place, told the BBC helicopters shot for 30 minutes late on Saturday, before troops became active on the ground. Helicopters fired at two houses, flattening one, he said.
Syrian Kurdish-led forces – one of the main US allies in northern Syria until President Trump withdrew US troops from the area this month – said they had carried out a “historic” joint operation.
Mr Trump praised them, as well as Russia, Iraq, Turkey and Syria for giving “certain support” to the operation.
“This is a devastating blow. This is not just their leader, it’s their founder. He was an inspirational leader in many ways. He formed ISIS in 2014, he led to establishing the physical caliphate throughout the region, so this is a major blow to them,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told Jake Tapper Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The covert operation started around 5 p.m. on Saturday evening as eight helicopters carrying teams of elite US troops, including Delta Force operators, flew exactly one hour and ten minutes over “very, very dangerous territory” towards the compound, according to Trump. Numerous other US aircraft and ships were also involved in the mission.
Some of the US forces originated from various locations inside Iraq, according to a US official.
“We flew very, very low and very, very fast. It was a very dangerous part of the mission. Getting in and getting out, too. Equal. We wanted an identical — we took an identical route,” Trump told reporters on Sunday while providing a detailed account of the secret mission.
While in transit, the helicopters were met with local gunfire. US aircraft returned fire and eliminated the threat, Trump said.
After arriving at the compound, US troops breached a wall to avoid a booby trapped entrance and that’s when “all hell broke loose,” the President added.
While clearing the compound, US forces killed a “large number” of ISIS fighters during a gun battle without suffering casualties, according to Trump.
At least two ISIS fighters were captured and 11 children were taken into custody. Two of Baghdadi’s wives were killed during the operation and their suicide vests remained unexploded.
Ultimately Baghdadi, who was also wearing a suicide vest, took refuge in a “dead end” tunnel with three children.
“He reached the end of the tunnel, as our dogs chased him down. He ignited his vest, killing himself and the three children. His body was mutilated by the blast. The tunnel had caved in on it in addition,” Trump said.
DNA tests that positively confirmed Baghdadi’s identity began “about 15 minutes after he was killed” and US teams on the ground “brought body parts back,” sources told CNN.
The President also said US forces obtained “highly sensitive material and information from the raid, much having to do with ISIS — origins, future plans, things that we very much want.”
“The raid was successful. We pulled our troops out. We had two minor casualties, two minor injuries, to our soldiers but a very successful, flawless raid,” Esper told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday.
While the military operation took place over the course of just two hours Saturday night, Baghdadi had been under surveillance for a couple of weeks, Trump told reporters, adding that two to three planned missions were scrapped before the successful one was launched.
Mazloum Abdi, the commander in chief of the Kurdish forces in Syria, said in a tweet the intelligence operations that led to the US military raid in Syria that killed Baghdadi began five months ago.
The CIA ultimately located Baghdadi and shared that intelligence with the Department of Defense, sources told CNN.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were notified about Baghdadi’s possible location “earlier in the week” and told Thursday that there was a high probability he was in the compound.
That is when the President ordered military commanders to begin drawing up specific options, which were presented on Friday, according to Pence.
“We knew a little bit about where he was going, where he was heading. We had very good information that he was going to another location. He didn’t go. Two or three efforts were canceled because he decided to change his mind, constantly changing his mind. And finally we saw that he was here, held up here,” Trump said.
“This was one where we knew he was there, and you can never be 100% sure because you’re basing it on technology more than anything else. But we thought he was there and then we got a confirmation,” he added.
In an interview with ABC on Sunday, Esper also offered additional details related to the decision-making timeline.
“Well the stars started lining up some time ago and in the past couple of weeks — week or so, the operational forces, which would — which were one of several options available to the President, started rehearsing and practicing and doing what they would have to do on the objective,” he said.
“And it wasn’t until Thursday and then Friday the President chose his option and gave us the green light to proceed as we did yesterday,” Esper added.
But the decision to move forward with the mission was not made until Saturday morning when the White House received actionable intelligence, Pence said.
White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday that the US military operation was named after American Kayla Mueller
who was held hostage by ISIS and killed in 2015.