US Releases Declassified Video of Al-Baghdadi Raid

October 30, 2019 Updated: October 30, 2019

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon on Wednesday released its first images from last weekend’s commando raid in Syria that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The declassified, grainy, black-and-white aerial videos from Saturday’s raid showed U.S. special operations forces closing in on the compound and U.S. aircraft firing on extremists nearby.

The most dramatic video showed a massive, black plume of smoke rising from the ground after U.S. military bombs leveled Baghdadi’s compound.

compound of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi
A smoke cloud rises moments after an air strike on the compound of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in the Idlib region of Syria from video taken Oct. 26, 2019. (U.S. Department of Defense/REUTERS)

“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.

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.

Baghdadi, an Iraqi jihadist who declared himself “caliph” of all Muslims as the leader of ISIS, died by detonating a suicide vest as he fled into a dead-end tunnel as elite U.S. special forces closed in.

This file image made from video posted on a militant website April 29, 2019, purports to show the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, being interviewed by his group’s Al-Furqan media outlet. (Al-Furqan media via AP, File)

McKenzie said Baghdadi brought two young children into the tunnel with him. They were killed by the explosion of the vest. Earlier estimates had said that three children may have been killed in the tunnel by Baghdadi. Both children were believed to be under the age of 12, he said.

The General portrayed Baghdadi as isolated at his Syrian compound, just four miles from the Turkish border, saying fighters from other extremist and militant groups nearby probably did not even know he was there. McKenzie suggested it was unlikely that Baghdadi used the Internet or had digital connections to the outside world.

compound of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi
The compound of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is seen moments before an air strike in the Idlib region of Syria from video taken on Oct. 26, 2019. (U.S. Department of Defense/Reuters)

“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.

McKenzie said ISIS may 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 ISIS’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 said Turkey’s incursion into Syria this month, and the U.S. pullback from the border, was not a factor in deciding the timing of the raid. Instead, McKenzie pointed to a host of other factors, including the amount of moonlight.

“We struck because the time is about right to do it then, given the totality of the intelligence and the other factors that would affect the raid force going into and coming out,” McKenzie said.

By Phil Stewart