Washington (CNN)– President Donald Trump declared Sunday morning that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead after a US military raid in northwest Syria over the weekend.
“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead,” Trump said at the White House, calling the ISIS leader’s removal “the top national security priority of my administration.”
The President said a US special operations forces mission went after the ISIS leader and there were no US deaths during the operation. Several ISIS fighters and companions of Baghdadi were killed, including two women wearing suicide vests and three children.
Trump would not provide a specific number of casualties, only describing those targeted on the scene as “more dead than alive.” Eleven children were moved out of the house and are uninjured, the President said.
The death of Baghdadi marks the culmination of a years-long hunt to find one of the most wanted terrorists in the world and the man who declared a so-called Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
But it also comes as the US military is pulling back in Syria, a move analysts warn could allow for an ISIS resurgence. But Trump insisted Baghdadi’s demise had nothing to do with the US’s recent decision to pull out of northern Syria.
“No, the pullout had nothing to do with this. In fact we found this out at a very similar time,” Trump said. “No, we’re after these leaders, and we have others in site.”
Trump said Baghdadi was chased to the end of a dead-end tunnel by dogs,
bringing three children with him. At the end of the tunnel, he detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and the children with him.
‘He died like a coward’
The President said “immediate” and “totally positive” test results proved it was Baghdadi, saying a lab technician on the scene of the raid confirmed the ISIS leader’s death.”He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place,” Trump said.
Trump described the situation, saying the ISIS leader “spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him.”The President said US forces obtained “highly sensitive material and information from the raid, much having to do with ISIS — origins, future plans, things that we very much want.”Trump told reporters Baghdadi was under surveillance for a couple of weeks and that two to three planned missions were scrapped before the successful one was launched.
The US flew over certain Russian airspace during the mission, he said.
This was tweeted from Dan Scavino with the caption:
“President Trump is joined by VP Mike Pence, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, left; Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Mark A. Milley, and Brig. Gen. Marcus Evans, Deputy Director for Special Operations on the Joint Staff, at right, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in the Situation Room of the White House monitoring developments as U.S. Special Operations forces close in on notorious ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s compound in Syria.
The President said he watched the operation from the White House Situation Room beginning at 5 p.m. The mission, he said, began shortly thereafter and went on for about two hours. He was accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Mark A. Milley, and Brig. Gen. Marcus Evans, Deputy Director for Special Operations, according to Assistant to the President Dan Scavino.
CIA Director Gina Haspel did play a role in the operation on Saturday, according to a source familiar with the matter. She would have been monitoring from CIA headquarters and in touch with the Situation Room, similar to how then-CIA Director Leon Panetta was positioned during the Osama bin Laden operation.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire was not in the Situation Room either, but an ODNI spokesperson said Maguire was “fully aware and engaged in the planning. For the operation itself, he was out of town due to a pre-arranged engagement but watched with the CENTCOM commander.”
“Last night was a great night for the United States and for the world,” the President said. He described in sometimes brutal terms how al-Baghdadi died. He said the leader, “spent his last moments in utter fear… terrified of the American forces bearing down on him.” He described Baghdadi as, “crying, whimpering, screaming, and bringing three kids with him. To die. Certain death.”