Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Vice President Mike Pence said late-breaking intelligence gave special forces the opening they needed to carry out the attack on Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after President Trump approved the raid earlier this past week.
Vice President Mike Pence told CBS News that by Thursday afternoon, the U.S. had a “high probability” that Baghdadi would be in the compound in Idlib, Syria. He added that the U.S. received “actionable intelligence” on Saturday morning that allowed the mission to move forward that night.
A U.S. official told VOA the operation was staged from a base in Iraq. President Trump said eight helicopters flew slightly over an hour to reach the compound.
Esper said soldiers had intended on capturing Baghdadi but were prepared to kill him, if necessary. The team called out to Baghdadi to try to get him to surrender.
“He refused. He went down to a subterranean area, and in the process of trying to get him out, he detonated a suicide vest, we believe, and killed himself,” Esper told CNN.
According to Pence, the president looked at options presented to him by military leaders on Friday morning.
“He reviewed them, asked some great questions, chose the option that we thought gave us the highest probability of success and confirmation that the head of ISIS would be there and either captured or killed,” Esper added.
Esper said there were two “minor” injuries to U.S. soldiers in the operation, who have since returned to duty. Trump also indicated a U.S. K-9 was injured.
Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces who partnered with the U.S. to defeat Islamic State in Syria, thanked the president on Twitter Sunday and said there had been monitoring and “joint intel cooperation on the ground” with the U.S. for five months.
He called the death of Baghdadi a “joint operation,” and hinted at “other effective operations” between the U.S. and SDF in the future. He later said an operation in the region targeted and killed Islamic State spokesman Hassan al-Muhajir. U.S. officials would not comment on Abdi’s Tweets.
During the announcement, Trump thanked the SDF, Iraq, Russia, Turkey and Syria, in addition to U.S. military forces who were “so brave and so good.”