The Pentagon released the first government photos and video clips of the night time operation, including one showing Delta Force commandos approaching a walled compound near the village of Barisha, Idlib province, in an area close to the Turkish border.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on October 31, 2019

The US Pentagon has for the first time released video and photographs showing portions of the operation targeting Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in his hideout in northwest Syria’s Idlib province.

General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie Jr, who heads the US Central Command, detailed the attack and also warned that al-Baghdadi’s death does not mean the acts of terrorism will end.

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“It will take some time to re-establish someone to lead the organisation, and during that period of time, their actions may be a little bit disjointed,” McKenzie said.

“They will be dangerous. We suspect they will try some form of retribution attack, and we are postured and prepared for that.

“We don’t see a bloodless future, because unfortunately this ideology is going to be out there.”

Earlier, the acting homeland security secretary, Kevin McAleenan, told a congressional hearing that US security agencies have been reminded of the potential for al-Baghdadi’s death to inspire his followers to launch an attack “in the immediate aftermath”.

Russell Travers, the acting director of the National Counterterrorism Centre, told the same hearing that he does not believe al-Baghdadi’s death will have “much impact” on the organisation.

“If there were significant attacks that were in the planning, that planning will continue. It won’t have that much effect,” Travers aid.

Within Syria and Iraq, he added, IS has at least 14,000 fighters.

“That’s an important number,” he said. “Because five, six years ago, when ISIS was at its low point, they were down under a thousand. To us, this tells us the insurgency has a lot of options.”

The Pentagon released the first government photos and video clips of the nighttime operation, including one showing Delta Force commandos approaching a walled compound near the village of Barisha, in an area close to the Turkish border that is rife with assorted extremist groups. Al-Baghdadi was known to be in the compound.

McKenzie said that he, with authorisation from President Donald Trump, gave the order to begin the operation around 9 am local time on Saturday, October 26 from Centcom headquarters in Tampa.

As the US aircraft arrived at the compound, the US helicopters started receiving fire from fighters on the ground. McKenzie said he believed those groups were not ISIS members, however, they demonstrated hostile intent against US forces and were killed by two airstrikes from supporting helicopters.

The assault force surrounded the compound and urged those inside to surrender peacefully.

“Those who came out of the building were checked for weapons and explosives and moved away,” McKenzie said. “US forces detained and later released the noncombatants. The group was treated humanely at all times, and included 11 children.”

Five ISIS members inside the compound presented a threat, McKenzie said.

“They did not respond to commands in Arabic to surrender,” he added, “and they continued to threaten the force. They were engaged by the raid force and killed: four women and one man.”

McKenzie said that, in part due to information provided by people questioned at the compound, al-Baghdadi was discovered hiding in an underground hole or tunnel.

Two children died with al-Baghdadi when he detonated a bomb vest, McKenzie said, adding that this was one fewer than originally reported. He said the children appeared to be under the age of 12.

al-Baghdadi compoound locator

The general said the military dog that was injured during the raid is a four-year veteran with US Special Operations Command and had been on approximately 50 combat missions.

The dog, a male whose name has not been released because the mission was classified, was injured when he came in contact with exposed live electrical cables in the tunnel after al-Baghdadi detonated his vest, McKenzie said. He said the dog has returned to duty.

Baghdadi was identified by comparing his DNA to a sample collected in 2004 by US forces in Iraq, where he had been detained.

The US managed to collect “substantial” amounts of documentation and electronics during the rain, McKenzie said, but he would not elaborate. Such efforts are a standard feature of raids against high-level extremist targets and can be useful in learning more about the group’s plans.

The US bombed the compound after the soldiers completed the mission to prevent it standing as a shrine to al-Baghdadi.

“It looks pretty much like a parking lot with large potholes right now,” McKenzie said.