Deadly US Raid on ISIS Meets Doll, Cradle, Bomb and Bullets
When helicopters carrying around 50 US commandos slammed into Syria an hour after midnight, looters faced a house full of extremists and children.
Baby comfort was inside – a plush bunny, a blue plastic swing, a crib. So did the paraphernalia of violence – such as the bomb that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi allegedly used to blow himself up, his family and possibly others nearby, according to US officials. immediate.
It was a daring raid on an extremist stronghold in northwest Syria, months of work and carried out knowing that children could die as well as the IS leader being hunted down if the occupants of the building did not come out. not when they had the opportunity to leave.
The apparent suicide bombing came before or at the start of a two-hour shootout on Thursday. First responders said 13 people died, including six children. No US commandos were injured, military officials said.
President Joe Biden, who ordered the raid, said the world was rid of a man he described as the driving force behind the “genocide of the Yazidi people in northwestern Iraq in 2014”, when massacres wiped out villages, thousands of women and young girls. were sold as slaves and rape was used as a weapon of war.
“Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said.
After months of planning, US intelligence first had to track al-Qurayshi’s whereabouts and figure out his movements – or lack thereof. They concluded that he rarely, if ever, left his family’s third-floor quarters except to bathe on the roof of the building.
Anticipating that al-Qurayshi might well choose death by self-detonation if cornered by US forces, US officials commissioned a remote engineering survey of the three-story cinderblock building to see if it would collapse in this event and would kill. everyone inside.
They concluded that enough of the building was likely to survive such an explosion to spare those not around it.
They built a tabletop model of the house and set it up in December in the Situation Room, the White House’s ultra-secure command and communications post where presidents and their national security aides handle crises. .
The second floor of the Syrian house, also white, was occupied by a low-ranking Islamic State leader and his family. The ground floor, part basement, housed a family with no connection to Islamic State and unaware of al-Qurayshi’s presence or importance, US officials said.
Biden was first briefed in depth more than a month ago by operational commanders after US forces were confident they would find al-Qurayshi – also known as Haji Abdullah – where they were. ‘did.
The Islamic State, which once controlled most of Iraq and parts of Syria, tried to regenerate itself and staged its most ambitious operation in years when it seized a prison in northeast Syria. Syria last month, holding at least 3,000 IS detainees.
Despite his best efforts with Russia as it gathers strength for a possible renewed invasion of Ukraine, Biden could not afford to take his eyes off ISIS.
On Tuesday morning, he met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the Oval Office and gave the go-ahead. On Wednesday night in Washington, Biden was in the Situation Room, monitoring a live stream of the mission as it unfolded.
In his refugee camp near the raid, Jamil el-Deddo heard planes and an explosion ripping through the night and at first thought it might be the famous barrel bombs “dropped on us”. President Bashar Assad’s forces have used the barrels filled with explosives against opponents during the Syrian conflict, inflicting indiscriminate death and injury.
“The first moments were terrifying,” el-Deddo told AP. “Nobody knew what was going on.”
The United States launched the raid from an unidentified base in the area after “conflicting” the mission with “a series of entities”. This is jargon to give some other forces or military interests in the region – possibly Russia – notice of an ongoing US operation.
Initially, the occupants of the building were ordered out.
“If you don’t leave, we have orders,” a man speaking an Iraqi dialect could be heard saying over the loudspeaker. “We are going to fire missiles towards the house. There are drones above our heads.”
Ten people left the building, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said — a man and woman from the first floor and eight children altogether from the first and second.
Shortly after, the blast destroyed much of the third floor and blasted bodies out of the house, including al-Qurayshi. General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said the explosion was more massive than one would expect from a suicide vest.
From the second floor, the barricaded IS lieutenant, whom officials did not identify, and a woman believed to be his wife exchanged sustained gunfire with the commandos, US officials said. Both died in the shooting, US officials said, and a child with them was also found dead, McKenzie said.
Special operations forces leading the mission were also threatened outside the building.
As the commandos cleared the second floor, a number of foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda in Syria “began maneuvering with weapons towards US forces” at the scene, McKenzie said. Gunfire from a US helicopter killed at least two of them, he said.
Another helicopter developed a significant malfunction, McKenzie said. After landing it safely away from the scene, the Americans rigged it to explode, then hit it with ammo from the air to be doubly sure that ‘no sensitive equipment would remain in Syria’ .
Videos released by the Syrian opposition group Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, show a paramedic rushing a little girl from the house into an ambulance. A photo of a girl circulated on social media later showing a girl who appeared to be around five years old with blood on her face.
When the commandos left safely, Biden said “God bless our troops,” according to a U.S. official who briefed the press on condition of anonymity. Biden was briefed on their long flight out of Syria overnight by Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser.
In footage afterwards, blood could be seen on the walls and floor in what remains of the structure. A destroyed room had a wooden cradle and the stuffed rabbit doll. On a damaged wall, the baby swing was still hanging.
In the fog following the war, there was no immediate account from the United States of how many children died altogether and how. The White House attributed the deaths of three of the children to the al-Qurayshi blast while the Pentagon said two, both leaving unexplained, for now, how many might have been killed in the shooting.
Biden said US forces chose a riskier commando raid over an air strike to minimize civilian casualties.
Yet the United States launched the operation knowing that the leader of ISIS might respond by killing innocent people around him as well as himself. McKenzie said the United States “as always” will investigate whether innocent people have been killed by its forces.
Baldor, Miller and Woodward reported from Washington; Alsayed from Atmeh, Syria. Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Eric Tucker, Chris Megerian, Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed reporting.