“Last night, the United States brought the world’s Number One terrorist leader to justice,” Trump said in remarks from the East Room of the White House. “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.”
Al-Baghdadi’s death represents a significant symbolic victory in the battle against the terror group and marks the end of a years-long effort to track down the elusive ISIS leader, who had been reported killed multiple times in the past.
Trump described the “dangerous and daring” operation in detail, saying Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest after being cornered in a tunnel by U.S. Special Operations forces with three of his children. Trump said test results gave “totally positive” confirmation that Baghdadi was killed.
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” Trump said, claiming that Baghdadi died “whimpering.”
The president also said he watched “much” of the operation in the Situation Room, though he did not go into detail. The White House later released a photo of Trump alongside Vice President Mike Pence, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other military leaders in the Situation Room on Saturday.
— Dan Scavino Jr. (@Scavino45) October 27, 2019
Trump said the raid spanned two hours and concluded with U.S. forces taking “highly sensitive material” related to ISIS. Trump said no U.S. personnel were lost in the operation and that “many” of al-Baghdadi’s cohorts were killed.
Trump said he had known about the plans for the mission for three days, adding that he did not notify congressional leaders out of fear of “leaks.”
“A leak could have caused the death of all of them,” Trump said, later noting that he spoke with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) about the operation on Sunday following its conclusion.
The announcement will serve as a boost for Trump, who has faced scrutiny in recent weeks for his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria — a move his critics argue greenlighted a Turkish military operation against U.S.-allied Kurds. Many have worried of an ISIS resurgence in the region following the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
“Last night was a great night for the United States and for the world. A brutal killer, one who has caused so much hardship and death, has been violently eliminated,” Trump said Sunday. “He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place. God bless America.”
Al-Baghdadi’s death deals a blow to ISIS, which has already been significantly eroded by the U.S.-led coalition, though it does not mean a complete demise of the terror group.
Trump declared that al-Baghdadi’s death demonstrated the United States’s “relentless pursuit of terrorist leaders and our commitment to the enduring and total defeat of ISIS and other terrorist organizations.”
Reports began to surface late Saturday that U.S. forces had carried out a raid in northwest Syria targeting al-Baghdadi and that the militant leader was believed to have been killed. Trump also teased a major announcement, writing on Twitter, “Something very big has just happened!”
Trump said Sunday that he sent the tweet after U.S. forces had safely returned, and that he did so to alert the news media.
Trump thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iraq for cooperating with the mission and recognized the Kurds for providing helpful intelligence. Trump said the Kurds did not play a military role in the operation. He also thanked U.S. forces and intelligence officials involved in the mission.
Trump also continued to defend his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria, arguing it didn’t serve U.S. interests to keep soldiers on the border between Turkey and Syria.
“We don’t want to keep soldiers between Syria and Turkey for the next 200 years. They’ve been fighting for hundreds of years. We’re out,” Trump said, adding that the U.S. is leaving some troops in the region to secure oil fields to ensure they don’t fall into the hands of ISIS fighters.
This breaking news report was last updated at 11:00 a.m.