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Central Command Chief gives details on Baghdadi raid

By Jim Garamone Dept. of Defense

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Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie briefed Pentagon reporters today on the Oct. 26 raid in northwestern Syria that resulted in Baghdadi's death. Pentagon officials also released videos of the raid.

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VIDEO | 00:15 | The U.S. assault force moves toward the objective. U.S. special operations forces move toward an objective in the compound occupied by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria, Oct. 26, 2019.

McKenzie said planning for the raid began much earlier. He said Baghdadi was a priority target for Centcom, and as a result, was the subject of an intense effort to bring him to justice. 

"As it became clear that we had gained clear and actionable intelligence on his hideout, we developed a plan designed to capture or kill him and started preparing a special operations team for the mission," he said.

McKenzie said he briefed Defense Department leaders on the intelligence and the plan on Oct. 25. With the approval of Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he briefed President Donald J. Trump on all aspects of the plan, including the risks involved in its execution.

The special operations team was staged in Syria and launched against an isolated compound in Idlib province about 4 miles from the Turkish border. "We assess that he was hiding in Idlib province to avoid the intense pressure that had been put on ISIS in other areas of Syria," the general said.

The team was inserted by helicopter and protected by attack choppers, unmanned strike aircraft and fourth- and fifth-generation fighters, McKenzie said. "I would also note that the plan accounted for the assumption that we would find multiple children at the objective," he added.

The president approved the plan, and Centcom deconflicted operations in the area with Turkey and Russia, McKenzie said. 

As the U.S. aircraft arrived at the compound, the choppers started receiving fire from fighters on the ground. McKenzie said he believes those groups were not ISIS members. Still, he said, they demonstrated hostile intent against U.S. 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. "U.S. 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 to the force, the general 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."

U.S. forces located Baghdadi in a tunnel inside the compound. When capture was imminent, the terrorist detonated a bomb he was wearing, killing himself and two children.

"After Baghdadi's murder/suicide, the assault force cleared debris from the tunnel and secured Baghdadi's remains for DNA verification," McKenzie said, adding that the remains were positively identified. The body was appropriately buried at sea, in accordance with the law of armed conflict, he said.

Aircraft destroyed the compound so it can't be used as a shrine to the murderer, the general told reporters. "It looks like a parking lot with big potholes," McKenzie said.