The Pentagon on Wednesday released video footage of the raid during which U.S. special forces killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, giving a detailed account of the operation, and warning against retaliation.
Speaking at a press conference at 5 pm local time, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie went through video evidence of the operation.
McKenzie confirmed the operation took place in Idlib, in northwest Syria, and that U.S. forces conducted a helicopter assault, surrounding the compound before moving in on the target.
Haaretz Weekly Ep. 45
The most dramatic video showed a massive, black plume of smoke rising from the ground after U.S. military bombs leveled Baghdadi's compound.
"It looks pretty much like a parking lot, with large potholes," said Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East.
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McKenzie, briefing Pentagon reporters, said the idea of destroying the compound was at least in part "to ensure that it would not be a shrine or otherwise memorable in any way.
"It's just another piece of ground," he said.
Al-Baghadadi was found in a tunnel, where he was hiding with two small children, both under the age of 12 and both were killed. McKenzie confirmed that he detonated a bomb, killing himself and the children, leaving other people outside to face the U.S. onslaught.
Five other ISIS members beside Baghdadi died during the operation, McKenzie said, including four women, after not responding to orders to desist. Special care was taken to single out non-combatants in the compound, the general added, saying that eleven children had been protected by assault forces.
The compound was just four miles from the Turkish border, McKenzie said. Fighters from other militant groups nearby probably did not even know he was there, with the general suggesting it was unlikely that Baghdadi used the Internet or had digital connections to the outside world.
"I think you'd find (he was using) probably a messenger system that allows you to put something on a floppy or on a bit of electronics and have someone physically move it somewhere," he said.
Prepared for retaliation
McKenzie said Islamic State would likely try to stage some kind of retaliatory attack.
"We suspect they will try some form of retribution attack. And we are postured and prepared for that," he said.
McKenzie suggested the U.S. military had secured a large amount of intelligence about Islamic State's activities during the raid.
"While the assault force was securing the remains, they also secured whatever documentation and electronics we could find, which was substantial," McKenzie said, declining to provide further details.
McKenzie heaped praise on the personnel that conducted the mission, "quiet professionals, focused on their mission above glory or recognition." He said it was a testimony to the U.S. global reach and operational capacity.
Al-Baghdadi's remains were secured for identification. They were later buried at sea, "in accordance with the law of armed conflict." This is the same way that the U.S. military disposed of Osama Bin Laden's body.
The administration showed special concern for the dog that took part of the operation. The animal was injured during the operation, and had already returned to active duty, according to McKenzie.
Earlier in the day, the member of the special canine unit had received a medal of honor from Donald Trump. For two days, the president had drip-fed Twitter followers clues about the animal's identity.
In his reveal of the operation, Donald Trump said al-Baghdadi had died "like a dog," and that he "died a coward - crying, whimpering, screaming."
Asked about Trump's account, McKenzie said: "About Baghdadi's last moments, I can tell you this: He crawled into a hole with two small children and blew himself up as his people stayed on the ground."
"So you can deduce what kind of person he is based on that activity... I'm not able to confirm anything else about his last seconds. I just can't confirm that one way or another."