Islamic State Leader 'Crawled Into a Hole' to Die, Pentagon Says
By Jeff Seldin October 30, 2019
Three days after U.S. President Donald Trump stepped up to a White House podium and told the world Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was finally dead, military officials gave the public a glimpse of the raid that ended his life.
Five black-and-white videos, taken by drones flying overhead, show attack helicopters blasting and killing a series of dark figures near the compound who fired on U.S. special forces as they flew in, before the U.S. forces themselves approach, calling on those inside to surrender.
The videos, released late Wednesday, also show U.S. aircraft using precision guided munitions to reduce the area to rubble.
"It looks pretty much like a parking lot with large potholes right now," said General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, who oversaw the mission. "The operation was exquisitely planned and executed."
What the video and several additional photos did not show, however, were the terror leader's last moments.
In announcing the terror leader's death on Sunday, Trump said, "He died like a dog."
"He died like a coward," the president added. "He was whimpering, screaming and crying."
But the Pentagon, as it did earlier in the week, declined Wednesday to confirm that account of the IS leader's last moments, though its account was no more flattering.
"I can tell you this. He crawled into a hole with two, small children and blew himself up," General McKenzie told reporters, adding Baghdadi may have also fired several shots at U.S. forces before dying.
"You can deduce what kind of person it is based on that activity," McKenzie said. "I'm not able to confirm anything else."
Initial accounts, including the one shared by President Trump, indicated Baghdadi had three children with him when he detonated a suicide belt or suicide vest, killing all of them. But McKenzie said special forces members later concluded there had been only two children with the self-declared IS caliph when he fled into a dead-end tunnel as U.S. forces moved in.
U.S. military officials have said the raid on Baghdadi was months in the making, a culmination of intense surveillance, human intelligence and, finally, because the right opportunity presented itself.
McKenzie told reporters he gave the special operations team the go-ahead at 9 a.m. EDT (1300 UTC) Saturday, after having fully briefed the president.
The special operations team then staged the final assault from Syria, flying to the location of Baghdadi's hideout in Barisha, near the Turkish border, accompanied by drones, attack helicopters and fighter jets, he said.
Upon their arrival at the site, about 10 to 15 fighters from nearby compounds, possibly thinking they were under attack, began firing at the U.S. forces and were killed.
U.S. forces then approached the compound, calling for those inside to surrender. One group, including 11 children, came out and were moved away from the site after being checked for weapons and explosive devices.
Once inside, U.S. forces shot and killed four women and one man, all believed to be suicide bombers, after they refused requests in Arabic to stop, McKenzie said.
It was at that point the U.S. team came upon Baghdadi, who fled into a tunnel before killing himself.
"While the assault force was securing the remains [of Baghdadi], they also secured whatever documentation and electronics we could find, which was substantial," McKenzie told reporters
President Trump on Sunday said the documents included "highly sensitive material," including future plans.
McKenzie declined to get into any detail, but said it appeared that Baghdadi had been using floppy disks or other computer hardware to store information and then distribute it by courier.
Before leaving the site, U.S. forces released all the non-combatants, including the 11 children who had evacuated the compound.
Two other men who had surrendered left with U.S. forces and remain in custody, McKenzie said.
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