On Sunday morning, President Trump announced the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
His death came as the result of a two-hour night-time raid on his compound in northern Syria by US forces on Saturday, and marks the end of a years-long hunt for one of the most wanted terrorists in the world.
Trump behaved as was to be expected, first tweeting “something very big just happened!” following the raid, then describing it in gory detail at a press conference.
Baghdadi is the man who famously declared an “Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014”, reports CNN.
This is the most significant announcement of the death of a terrorist since al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by US Navy Seals in May 2011.
The operation started at 5PM on Saturday evening, and comprised eight helicopters, carrying teams of US troops. Other aircraft and ships were reportedly also involved in the mission.
A journalist, Mohamad Rasheed, who was nearby when the raid took place, claims to have captured footage of the attack on the compound:
فيديو لغارات من طائرات حربية مجهولة أدت لإشتعال النيران بين باريشا و حتان بريف إدلب الشمالي بالقرب من الحدود التركية السورية. pic.twitter.com/w83K8DJMKE
— Mohamad Rasheed محمد رشيد (@mohmad_rasheed) October 27, 2019
That’s unverified, to be clear.
Once at the compound, troops eliminated a number of ISIS fighters and captured at least two. 11 children were taken into custody and two of Baghdadi’s wives, who were wearing suicide vests that remained unexploded, were killed during the operation.
Trump described Baghdadi as “whimpering and crying” as he fled US forces, something which no one has been able to verify.
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.
Al Jazeera captured exclusive footage from the scene of the US raid, which they unpack for us in the following video:
Baghdadi had been under surveillance for a couple of weeks before the raid, according to Trump. Mazloum Abdi, the commander in chief of the Kurdish forces in Syria, said in a tweet that the intelligence operations that led to the US military raid began five months ago.
According to The Guardian, Syrian Kurds claim to have placed a spy in Baghdadi’s inner circle who stole a pair of the Islamic State leader’s underwear to prove his identity. They then helped guide US troops to his compound.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) claim they played a key role in tracking down Baghdadi to a compound in northern Syria where he was reportedly planning his escape over the nearby border into Turkey.
Naturally, Trump played down the role of the SDF, who had been fighting ISIS alongside US troops, until Trump ordered US troops to stand aside which provided the perfect opportunity for a Turkish offensive against the Syrian Kurds.
“Since 15 May, we have been working together with the CIA to track Baghdadi and monitor him closely,” Polat Can, a senior SDF official said on Twitter.
“One of our sources was able to reach the house where Baghdadi was hiding. Baghdadi changed his places of residence very often. He was about to move to a new place in Jerablus [on the border with Turkey].”
Trump is claiming credit for masterminding the operation that led to Baghdadi’s death, but the SDF is saying that Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces led to the operation being postponed.
“More than a month ago, the decision was made to eliminate Baghdadi. However, the US withdrawal and the Turkish invasion prompted us to stop our special operations, including the pursuit of Baghdadi. The Turkish invasion caused a delay in the operation,” Can said.
In other words, the death of the ISIS leader appears to have happened in spite of Trump, not as a result of any careful planning on his part.
Still, the death of the leader of an international terrorist organisation has been widely lauded as a success around the world, and the efforts of those who actually assisted in the mission should be applauded.
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