Over the weekend, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a US raid in Syria, according to NBC News.
In the greatest counterterrorism victory of his presidency, Trump told the nation that al-Baghdadi killed himself and three of his children after US troops raided a compound in northwestern Syria on Saturday. The terrorist fled into a “dead-end” tunnel as soon as the raid began and used a suicide vest to blow up himself, the children, and the cave.
The CIA had been honing intelligence for weeks to ensure al-Baghdadi was killed and not an impersonator. Several previous attempts at his life were canceled when al-Baghdadi made changes to his plans.
How troops discovered the terrorist leader is classified, but the same Kurds Trump is accused of abandoning in Syria earlier this month apparently supplied information crucial for the raid.
The attack on the compound came from the air. After Vice President Mike Pence, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff were assembled, helicopters left the US to Syria.
The Russians and Turks were informed of the plan since the two countries controlled some of the airspace the US needed to fly through and to ensure no other hostile forces remained in the area. The eight helicopters nearing the compound received gunfire but returned it and landed near the compound.
“A large crew of brilliant fighters” blew holes through the side of the compound to avoid a trapped main door. Several of al-Baghdadi's men were killed while eleven children were moved to a safe location before al-Baghdadi killed himself.
“He was screaming, crying and whimpering,” Trump said. “He was scared out of his mind.”
US troops confirmed al-Baghdadi's identity after the explosion using previously obtained DNA samples with his mutilated remains. No American soldiers were killed or injured in the attack.
The successful mission comes only a month after al-Baghdadi posted an audio message boasting that the US had still not found him. It also came in the wake of Trump’s decision to pull troops out of Syria, leaving Kurdish allies and religious minorities such as Christians vulnerable.
Many Congressional leaders were not informed of the raid, contrary to precedent. Only Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) were told about the upcoming plan.
“We were going to notify them last night, but we decided not to do that because Washington leaks like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” Trump said. He feared lives would be lost should the word get out.
Experts and those affected by ISIS have cheered the mission as a remarkable victory.
Art and Shirley Sotloff, parents to Steven Sotloff who was killed by ISIS, said: “While this victory will not bring our beloved Steven back to us, it is a significant step in the campaign against ISIS. It is our hope that our son’s surviving captors, nicknamed ‘the Beatles,’ will be brought to justice, that all remaining hostages are returned to safety, and that the United States will take every measure to eliminate the resurgence of ISIS and terror in all forms.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also praised “the heroism, dedication and skill of our military and our intelligence professionals and acknowledge the work of our partners in the region.”
But she, like many other experts, warns that this victory does not mean the end of ISIS.
“The death of al-Baghdadi is significant, but the death of this ISIS leader does not mean the death of ISIS,” she said. “Scores of ISIS fighters remain under uncertain conditions in Syrian prisons, and countless others in the region and around the world remain intent on spreading their influence and committing acts of terror.”
Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Handout
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine. She blogs at mikaelamathews.com.