The United States took two prisoners during the raid on the compound of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, officials said on Oct. 28.
The Oct. 26 raid left al-Baghdadi and several top ISIS members dead, as well as several children who were killed when al-Baghdadi detonated a blast in a dead-end tunnel, President Donald Trump said over the weekend.
In an update during a briefing at the Pentagon on Oct. 28, military leaders said two men were taken prisoner.
“There were two adult males taken off the objective, alive,” Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during the briefing in Washington. “They’re in our custody and they’re in a secure facility.”
He declined to say what the men’s relationship with the ISIS leader was. The raid took place in Syria’s Idlib province, just miles from the border with Turkey.
Milley said al-Baghdadi was hiding in a tunnel and detonated a suicide vest as U.S. forces closed in. Visual evidence and DNA testing confirmed his identity.
“The disposal of his remains has been done, is complete, and was handled appropriately,” he said.
Trump said on Oct. 27 that al-Baghdadi was “whimpering and crying” just before he detonated the blast. Milley said he didn’t know who Trump had gotten that information from, but said the president had spoken “directly to the unit members.”
Trump told reporters early on Oct. 28 that he might release some portions of the video footage showing the raid on the compound, while Milley said that some video of the operation could be released to the public after it undergoes the declassification process.
Milley indicated it wouldn’t have been difficult to carry out the mission without troops on the ground. “From an operational standpoint, the United States military can strike any target anywhere, anytime.”
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, meanwhile, said the operation “was the culmination of a multiyear, interagency effort to find him and then capture or kill him.
“Baghdadi and the thugs who follow him were responsible for some of the most brutal atrocities of our time,” he said. “His death marks a devastating blow for the remnants of ISIS, who are now deprived of their inspirational leader, following the destruction of their physical caliphate earlier this year.”
Esper said there was no guarantee of success for such a complex operation and said Trump made a “bold decision” when he greenlighted it.
Esper said a limited number of U.S. forces will remain in Syria for now “to give the president options,” but most will return to the United States. One of the key missions is to keep oil fields out of the hands of ISIS, since they’ve provided crucial funding for the terrorist group in the past.