By ALAN SMASON
President Donald Trump acknowledged the death of Daesh (ISIS) top leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by unspecified U.S. special forces in a dangerous raid in northwestern Syria last night.
In an impromptu White House news conference, the president confirmed al-Baghdadi was pursued by forces, trapped in a tunnel by dogs where he detonated a suicide vest that killed him and three of his young children.
“‘Capturing or killing Baghdadi has been the top national security priority of my administration,” Trump said.
“He died after running into a dead end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” Trump added. On-site DNA test results from his body parts confirmed it was him, he said.
No U.S. troops were lost in the operation and only a canine was injured in the explosion that took out the terrorist leader. Two of al-Baghdadi’s wives – both wearing explosive vests – were killed by the special forces, who also captured 11 of the terrorist leader’s other children and put them into the hands of others for safekeeping.
President Trump thanked Syria, Russia, Kurdish fighters and Turkey for their assistance in the operation and for supplying the U.S. with the highly sensitive data on al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts as well as allowing U.S. forces to fly over their territories.
In addition to the death of the founder of ISIS, Trump added, many of al-Baghdadi’s loyal forces were killed on site and highly sensitive information was gleaned from his compound during the two-hour operation on the ground.
“Baghdadi’s demise demonstrates America’s relentless pursuit of terrorist leaders and our commitment to the enduring and total defeat of ISIS and other terrorist organizations,” Trump noted.
While not specifying which special ops forces were involved, the president did thank and congratulated “soldiers, sailors and marines” for their work on the mission.
Trump described the mission as involving combined naval and air forces in support of a dangerous one-hour low-flying sortie of eight helicopters over Syria to evade radar detection. Once arriving on site, the U.S. forces breached the walls of al-Baghdadi’s compound in Syria with explosives rather than approach from the gates, which were suspected as being booby-trapped, the president continued. Met with hostile firepower, the U.S. forces returned fire and gave chase to al-Baghdadi.
The president revealed that he watched the operation play out live along with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, members of the joint chiefs of staff and other members of intelligence gathering organizations.
After the ground operation was finished, the forces took off from Syria and landed in “a friendly port,” which was when he tweeted “something big” had just happened.
“Last night was a great night for the United States and for the world,” he continued. “A brutal killer, one who has caused so much hardship and death, has violently been eliminated. He will never again harm another innocent man, woman or child. He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place,” Trump concluded.
Daesh, also known as the Islamic State or ISIS, has not made a statement about the alleged death. Baghdadi has been mistakenly reported killed in the past.
Trump said the U.S. knows who the successors of Baghdadi are and that they are “already in our sights.”
The announcement comes less than a month after Trump withdrew U.S. troops from northern Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Hebrew video message congratulated Trump on the “impressive accomplishment that lead to the elimination of the head of Daesh al-Baghdadi,” he said using the Arabic term of Islamic State. “This reflects our shared determination, of the U.S. and all the free countries to fight terrorist organizations and terrorist states. This accomplishment is an important milestone, but the campaign is still ahead of us.”
Blue and White head Benny Gantz also praised the operation. “The fight against terrorism requires a combination of responsibility, patience and determination to act when called upon,” he said in a statement. “The assassination of the ISIS leader in Syria yesterday perfectly reflects that combination. This is an important operational and intelligence achievement by the United States military, led by President Trump. ”
Something very big has just happened!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2019
(Marcy Oster of JTA also contributed to this report.)