American military officials have said the operation that resulted in the killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi succeeded not thanks to US President Donald Trump, but despite his actions, a report said Sunday.
Trump took credit for the success of the daring Saturday nighttime raid by US special forces deep in northwest Syria, claiming in a press conference Sunday that Baghdadi had died “like a dog” and that the achievement was bigger than the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden during the Obama administration.
According to The New York Times, however, the raid had been planned for months, but Trump’s recent decision to pull US troops from northern Syria “disrupted the meticulous planning and forced Pentagon officials to press ahead with a risky, night raid before their ability to control troops and spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared.”
Baghdadi’s death “occurred largely in spite of Mr. Trump’s actions,” the report said, citing military, intelligence and counterterrorism officials.
It also said the information about Baghdadi’s general location had been provided by one of his wives, who was arrested and interrogated during the summer, as well as a courier who was similarly questioned.
The information about the terror leader’s more specific whereabouts, the officials cited in the report said, came mostly from Syrian and Iraqi Kurds who continued to pass on the intelligence to the CIA, even after Trump announced the pullout — a move widely perceived to have been an abandonment of the US’s Kurdish allies.
The US military called off attempts to eliminate Baghdadi “at the last minute” at least twice, the report said.
Long pursued by the US-led coalition against IS, Baghdadi has been erroneously reported dead several times in recent years.
Baghdadi — an Iraqi native believed to be around 48 years old — was rarely seen.
After 2014, he disappeared from sight, only surfacing in a video in April with a wiry gray and red beard and an assault rifle at his side, as he encouraged followers to “take revenge” after the group’s territorial defeat.
The US State Department had posted a $25 million reward for information on his whereabouts.
The death of Baghdadi comes as a big boost for Trump, whose abrupt decision to withdraw a small but effective deployment of US forces from Syria caused fears that it would give Islamic State remnants and sleeper cells a chance to regroup.
Trump took a storm of criticism, including from his own usually loyal Republican Party.
In his televised address from the White House, Trump said that US forces had killed a “large number” of Islamic State fighters during the raid, which culminated in cornering Baghdadi in a tunnel, where he set off a suicide vest.
“He ignited his vest, killing himself,” Trump said.
“He died after running into a dead end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” Trump said, adding that three of Baghdadi’s children also died in the blast.
Trump said that the raid — which required flying more than an hour by helicopter each way from an undisclosed base — had been accomplished with help from Russia, Syria, Turkey, and Iraq.
At its height, Islamic State controlled swaths of Iraq and Syria in a self-declared state known as a caliphate, characterized by the brutal imposition of a puritanical version of Islam.
In addition to oppressing the people it governed, Islamic State planned or inspired terrorist attacks across Europe, while using expertise in social media to lure large numbers of foreign volunteers.
It took years of war, in which Islamic State became notorious for mass executions and sickening hostage murders, before the group’s final slice of territory in Syria was seized this past March.