US defense Secretary Mark Esper and Vice President Mike Pence said the newly obtained intelligence gave US Special Forces the ability to conduct an operation against Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after President Trump approved it earlier this week.
Vice President Mike Pence told CBS News that by Thursday afternoon, the US was “highly likely” to assume that Baghdadi would be in a building in Idlib in Syria, where he was eliminated. He added that on Saturday morning, the US received “intelligence based on which it was possible to act” and thanks to which the operation became possible.
A spokesman for the Federal government told that the operation was conducted from a base in Iraq. President Trump said the helicopters had to make a flight lasting just over an hour to reach the building where Baghdadi was staying.
Esper said the military had intended to capture Baghdadi but was prepared to kill him if necessary. The commandos called on Baghdadi to surrender.
“He refused. He went underground and when they tried to get him outside, we believe he detonated a suicide belt and killed himself,” Esper told CNN.
Esper said that during the operation, the US military received two “minor” injuries, but had already returned to duty. Trump also said that an American service dog was injured.
On Sunday, Esper also released an official statement in connection with the operation, in which he called it “flawless.”
“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi … died as a result of the actions of the armed forces of the United States,” said the head of the Pentagon. – Together with our partners earlier this year, we defeated the physical Caliphate of ISIS, and now its founder and leader is dead. This is a major victory in the mission to inflict the final defeat of ISIS.”
Syrian democratic forces (SDF) commander Mazlum Abdi on Sunday thanked President Trump in a tweet, saying cooperation with the US for intelligence purposes “on the ground” had lasted five months.
He called Baghdadi’s death a “joint operation” and hinted at the possibility of “other joint operations” by the US and SDF in the future. He later reported on the operation in which Islamic state spokesman Hassan al-Muhajir was killed. US officials have not yet commented on Abdi’s tweets.