U.S. military special operations forces killed the leader of the Islamic State group in northwest Syria, President Donald Trump announced Sunday. The action comes just weeks after Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from that country.
“Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead,” Trump said during a morning statement from the White House. “He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone.”
Trump calling the deceased terrorist a “coward.”
U.S. special forces chased al-Baghdadi into a “tunnel,” where Trump said he detonated an explosive vest that killed him and three of his young children. No American military personnel were killed, the president said.
“He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a safer place,” Trump said, telling reporters American troops took a 90-minute flight over dangerous territory in Syria that included territory now controlled by Russia.
U.S. military forces had been planning an operation for a “couple of weeks” and several potential missions were canceled.
Eight American helicopters landed in northwest Syria Saturday night, with U.S. special operations forces chasing al-Baghdadi into a tunnel. Trump said the terrorist leader was wearing an explosive-laden vest and opted to set it off rather than be killed by U.S. forces. Trump said one U.S. K-9 was injured.
“We lost nobody,” Trump said, adding his team informed “some” congressional leaders but opted not to notify a larger group because Washington “leaks.”
Al-Baghdadi “died at the end of a tunnel whimpering and crying and screaming,” he said, noting U.S. forces remained in the compound that was connected to the tunnel for nearly two hours. They removed information about ISIS’s origins and future plans, and took 11 “young children” out of the facility, he said.
The killing of the violent extremist group’s leader comes at a politically perilous time for the the president.
The newest Quinnipiac University poll put support for his impeachment at 55 percent. The latest CNN-SSRS survey put that figure at 50 percent. In both polls, and others with similar results, support for the president’s impeachment — and removal — has increased since this spring.
CNN pollsters also found that 69 percent of adults nationwide said that after the change in policy toward Syria it was very or somewhat likely that the Islamic State would reemerge there.
Trump again defended his Syria troop-withdrawal decision, which has upset many of his GOP congressional allies, by saying U.S forces should not stand between Turkish and Kurdish forces. Once again, he appeared to side with Turkey, saying that country had lost many fighters over the years in fighting the Kurds.
He also depicted the former U.S. military deployment in northern Syria as in the interest of Russia and China, alluding that both American rivals prefer Washington being bogged down in the Middle East.
Trump mentioned he spoke to Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham on Sunday morning. Graham played golf with Trump Saturday at the president’s northern Virginia golf resort, and he was at the White House for announcement.
After he returned to the White House Saturday around 4:30 p.m., Trump said, he and his national security team watched much of the mission from the Situation Room.
Senate Intelligence member Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a statement that he thinks “the president made the right call to take out this bloodthirsty monster who led ISIS as it raped and pillaged its way through Iraq and Syria.
“As Americans celebrate this victory, we must remain clear-eyed that this is no time to let off the gas: Baghdadi is gone but another animal will take his place as ISIS works to regroup,” Sasse said.
The president said a “small group” of adults were taken into U.S. custody, but said more adults were killed inside the compound than were taken alive.
Trump at times has feuded with U.S. intelligence officials. On Sunday, he gave them high marks for their role in tracking al-Baghdadi — but said he has dealt with some intel officials who he judged as “not very intelligent when it comes to intelligence.”