President Trump says ISIS leader al-Baghdadi is dead after US military raid in Syria
The president made the announcement from the White House.
"A brutal killer, one who has caused so much hardship and death, has violently been eliminated," Trump said in an address to the nation from the White House. "He will never again harm another innocent man, woman or child. He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place."
"Al-Baghdadi was vicious and violent and he died in a vicious and violent way. As a coward running and crying," Trump said. "This raid was impeccable and could only have taken place with the acknowledgment and help of certain other nations and people. I want to thank the nations of Russia, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq and I also want to thank the Syrian Kurds for certain support they were able to give us."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper appeared on ABC's "This Week" following the president's remarks and described more details of the military operation, saying the stars aligned a few of weeks ago. He said troops rehearsed the mission and then on Thursday and Friday chose the option they would proceed with on Saturday.
Trump said he and his national security team gathered in the Situation Room shortly after 5 p.m. to watch the mission. A short time later, eight helicopters carrying the special operations team took off from an undisclosed location in a nearby country for a 1 hour, 10 minute flight to al-Baghdadi's compound. The president said that flight was a dangerous part of the mission given they would be flying over Russian- and extremist-held territory.
Once the helicopters landed near the compound, the troops made their way to the building and blew holes into the side of the building to avoid the main door. There was a firefight and an unknown number of fighters were killed.
Al-Baghdadi grabbed three of his children and ran into an escape tunnel, where he was eventually cornered by a U.S. military dog, Trump said. The president described al-Baghdadi as, "whimpering, crying and screaming the whole time."
There were no American troops wounded in the operation, but a military dog was hurt when al-Baghdadi's vest was detonated and the tunnel collapsed, Trump said.
The president said al-Baghdadi's body was significantly damaged by the blast, but there were enough remains to positively identify him through a visual identification and an on-site DNA test.
Rumors had swirled since at least 2014 that al-Baghdadi had been wounded, or possibly even killed, but he'd often quash those himself by releasing audio recordings.
U.S. special forces nearly killed him in August 2017, destroying a compound south of Raqqa in which he was believed to have been during a massive bombardment. The following month, he released an audio recording to prove he'd survived.
The ISIS leader was last seen alive in a video in April.
There had been a $25 million U.S. bounty on the head of al-Baghdadi, who, in his only previous video, recorded in a Mosul mosque in 2014, called himself "Caliph," or leader of all Muslims.
The president said American forces were in the compound for about two hours after the mission and collected sensitive information.
Esper added that, "we destroyed the target site to ensure it was physically destroyed."
After the troops were safely returned from the compound, the president tweeted, "Something very big has just happened!"
"Last night was a great night for the United States and for the world," Trump said.
In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said al-Baghdadi met the fate he long deserved.
"While there is still work left to do to ensure ISIS’s enduring defeat, Baghdadi’s death follows the path of scores of other ISIS leaders that have been removed from the battlefield and can no longer commit heinous atrocities or spread their vile ideology of hatred to poison and recruit vulnerable minds. His evil acts of beheadings, enslavement of women, rape, torture, and pure brutality follows him to his grave," Pompeo said in the statement.
Following the president's remarks and press conference, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that al-Baghdadi's death was a "game changer."
"The best of America confronted the worst kind of mankind, and America won," he said.
"This is where Trump's worst critics should say well-done," Graham added.
During his press conference, Trump said he did not inform Democratic leaders about the mission, but did tell a small group of Republican lawmakers.
ABC News Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran asked Graham if that was appropriate, but Graham said it was not his place to comment on that.
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for a House briefing on the raid, "which the Russians but not top Congressional Leadership were notified of in advance."
"Americans salute the heroism, dedication and skill of our military and our intelligence professionals and acknowledge the work of our partners in the region. We are relieved that no U.S. personnel died in this daring raid," she said in the statement. "The death of al-Baghdadi is significant, but the death of this ISIS leader does not mean the death of ISIS. Scores of ISIS fighters remain under uncertain conditions in Syrian prisons, and countless others in the region and around the world remain intent on spreading their influence and committing acts of terror."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell applauded the president's announcement in a statement.
"A victory like this is only possible because of the expertise, skill, and courage of those who work to keep the United States safe. I am grateful for the intelligence professionals who laid the groundwork for this raid, for the brave American servicemembers who risked everything to carry it out, and to President Trump and his team for their leadership," he said in the statement.
In 2014, freelance journalist James Foley was executed by an ISIS militant after being kidnapped in northern Syria in November 2012. His execution was posted in a video online.
"I am grateful to our President and brave troops for finding ISIS leader Al-Bagdadi," his mother Diane Foley said in a statement released by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation. "I hope this will hinder the resurgence of terror groups and pray that captured ISIS fighters will be brought to trial and held accountable. I remain concerned about the dozen Americans held hostage in Syria, including Austin Tice and Majd Kamalmaz."
Asked by "This Week" Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz on Sunday about the possible uptick in violence following al-Baghdadi's death, Esper said, "When you take out a leader like that, it's going to have, I think, a major impact on the organization, but we'll see over time."
In a separate interview on "This Week," retired Adm. James Stavridis said ISIS is not just al-Baghdadi, "it is an ideology and it is also a network. So it will continue, unfortunately, it will link with al-Qaeda, with al-Shabab, with Boko Haram, other groups around the world."
He also called the recent withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria a mistake.
"Strategically, there are going to be questions as we pull back from working with the Kurds, for example, of whether or not the United States is a reliable ally, and so often, Martha, our intelligence comes because local forces, indigenous organizations see us as reliable, want to work with us, want to provide that intelligence," he told Raddatz on Sunday. "That’s why I believe the withdrawal of the 2,000 special forces from Syria is a mistake. I’m glad we are going back in, in and around the oil fields, but in both those instances, tactically and strategically, we ought to be concerned about the demotion of intelligence in facing the Islamic state going forward."
On Friday morning, Trump continued to defend his decision to pull U.S. troops out, but still secure oil fields.
"We're doing very well in Syria with Turkey and everybody else that we're dealing with. We have secured the oil," he told reporters at the White House. "We just did a great thing in Syria where we're getting our troops out. We took over oil."
ABC News' Adia Robinson, Benjamin Siegel, Jack Arnholz, Conor Finnegan, Avery Miller, Elizabeth McLaughlin and Mariam Khan contributed to this report.
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