The chief of the Daesh group Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi purportedly appears for the first time in five years. AFP
US President Donald Trump on Sunday announced that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of violent jihadist group Islamic State, died during an overnight raid led by U.S. military forces in Syria.
Here is a description of the raid according to Trump, who went into unusual detail during a national address broadcast from the White House.Daesh chief Baghdadi appears for first time in five years
* The United States began to receive intelligence on the whereabouts of Baghdadi around a month ago, including some "helpful" information from the Kurds, said Trump. U.S. intelligence officials were able to "scope out" his exact location two weeks ago, while Trump himself became aware of the planned raid three days ago. As part of the plan, the United States had to secure permission from Russia, Iraq and Turkey to fly over their airspace, according to Trump and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien. Trump said the White House did not disclose the nature of the operation to Russia, but told Russian officials they would "like" it.
* On Saturday, Trump arrived back at the White House at around 4:30 p.m. local time (10:30pm in Syria) after a round of golf in Virginia, according to his official schedule. At around 5 pm, he gathered in the White House Situation Room with Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, national security adviser Robert O'Brien, and other intelligence officials. They watched the raid unfold live "as if you were watching a movie," said Trump.
* Moments after they gathered, U.S. military personnel and military dogs lifted-off in eight helicopters from an unidentified military base in the Middle East, according to Trump. The personnel came from the Delta Force, one of the U.S. special units mainly focused on counter-terrorism and often deployed to capture high-value targets. A U.S. official told Reuters the operation was staged from an airbase in western Iraq. The on-the-ground operation in the Idlib region of Syria was supported by military aircraft and ships, said Trump. The operatives were also equipped with a military robot but did not ultimately use it.A Syrian man clears debris at the site of helicopter gunfire near the northwestern Syrian village of Barisha in the Idlib province. AFP
* Upon approaching Baghdadi's compound, the helicopters came under gunfire but U.S. forces were able to quickly suppress the assault and land safely. Believing the main compound door to be booby trapped, they entered in just seconds by blasting through the wall, said Trump. "We were getting full reports on a minute-by-minute basis," he added.
* U.S. forces quickly cleared the compound "with people either surrendering or being shot and killed," said Trump. Eleven children were removed, uninjured, and taken into care by a third party whom the president declined to name. U.S. soldiers captured and later imprisoned several Islamic State fighters.
US President Donald Trump. File photo
* Baghdadi fled into a subterranean area of the complex and into a tunnel, dragging three of his young children with him. Esper told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday that U.S. forces called for Baghdadi to surrender but the world's most wanted man refused. Chased by the dogs and confronted by a dead end, Baghdadi - "whimpering and crying and screaming," according to Trump - ignited his suicide vest, killing himself and his children and causing the tunnel to collapse. No military personnel were hurt although one dog was badly injured.
* With Baghdadi's body "mutilated by the blasts," U.S. forces used a DNA test onsite to confirm his identity in around 15 minutes. "The test results gave certain, immediate and totally positive identification. It was him," said Trump. Speaking on NBC News' Meet The Press with Chuck Todd on Sunday, O'Brien said: "We were in the Situation Room. And the commander of the mission called and said, ‘100% confidence, jackpot."
* The soldiers proceeded to search the compound, taking "highly sensitive material" including information on Islamic State's origins and its future plans. In total, U.S. forces were in the compound for around two hours before flying back out via the same route they flew in.
* Baghdadi's body will be "disposed of properly," O'Brien said, adding that he expected it to be the same protocol followed in 2011 for Osama bin Laden. The al Qaeda leader was buried at sea after U.S. officials consulted with experts in Islamic law and ritual.
With a $25 million US bounty on his head, Al Baghdadi had been far less visible in recent years, releasing only sporadic audio recordings, including one just last month in which he called on members of the extremist group to do all they could to free Daesh detainees and women held in jails and camps.
The purported audio was his first public statement since last April, when he appeared in a video for the first time in five years.
In 2014, he was a black-robed figure delivering a sermon from the pulpit of Mosul's Great Mosque of Al-Nuri, his only known public appearance. He urged Muslims around the world to swear allegiance to the caliphate and obey him as its leader.
President Donald Trump did not just commend the American forces who succeeded in capturing and killing Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in northeastern Syria. He also showered praise on a dog that tracked down the head of Daesh.
A US counterterrorism official says he expects a new Daesh leader to emerge after the death of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and warns that the extremist group's planning of major attacks probably will go on as before.
The developments made clear that one of President Donald Trump's rationales for withdrawing troops from Syria was not going to come to pass any time soon. "It's time to bring our soldiers back home," he said Wednesday. But they are not coming home.
Trump’s comments Sunday came amid escalating tensions in the Middle East following the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds force. Iran has vowed to retaliate and Iraq’s parliament responded by voting Sunday to oust US troops based in the country.
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