The general who oversaw the killing of the “Islamic State” leader says the US is on alert for “retribution.” The Pentagon released photos and video of the nighttime operation.
The Pentagon has released more details about the raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over the weekend — including a declassified video showing US commandos entering the compound where the “Islamic State” (IS) leader hid. General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of the US Central Command, said soldiers had buried the IS leader’s remains at sea within 24 hours of his death inside an underground tunnel where he fled as special operations troops closed in.
The US also bombed the compound after the soldiers completed the mission so that it would not stand as a shrine to al-Baghdadi. “It looks pretty much like a parking lot with large potholes right now,” McKenzie told reporters on Wednesday.
McKenzie said al-Baghdadi had been hiding at the compound in Syria’s northwest Idlib province for “a considerable period.” Media have reported that Kurdish forces, the US’s main allies against IS since the extremist group seized a large area straddling Syria and Iraq, were instrumental in uncovering and monitoring al-Baghdadi’s location.
This month, President Donald Trump pulled out US forces ahead of an offensive targeting Kurdish forces in northern Syria ordered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. McKenzie said military brass had briefed Trump on Friday and made the decision to go ahead on Saturday morning.
The general and other senior Pentagon officials with close knowledge of the events would not confirm Trump’s description of al-Baghdadi’s final moments; the president insists that the target died “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.” Trump also promised that US forces have secured the regional oil supply.
The troops launched from an undisclosed location inside Syria for the one-hour helicopter ride to the compound, McKenzie said. A video showed airstrikes on militants who fired at helicopters carrying US soldiers to the compound.
‘Postured and prepared’
Two children who appeared younger than 12 died with al-Baghdadi — one fewer than originally reported, McKenzie said. US troops escorted 11 other children from the site unharmed. They killed four women and at least one man wearing suicide vests who refused to surrender inside the compound, McKenzie said.
The general said a military dog whom the US Special Operations Command had used for approximately 50 combat missions over four years had sustained injuries when he came in contact with exposed live electrical cables in the tunnel after al-Baghdadi detonated his explosives vest. Officials did not release the dog’s name, owing to the classified nature of the mission, but McKenzie said he had returned to duty.
Officials identified al-Baghdadi by comparing his DNA to a sample collected in 2004 by US forces in Iraq, where they had held him. The US managed to collect “substantial” amounts of documentation and electronics during the raid, McKenzie said, but he would not elaborate. He added that the US has not defeated IS.
“It will take them some time to reestablish someone to lead the organization, and during that period of time their actions may be a little bit disjointed,” the general said. “They will be dangerous. We suspect they will try some form of retribution attack, and we are postured and prepared for that.”