President Joe Biden delivered remarks from the White House on Thursday, detailing a dramatic US raid overnight in Syria that he claimed killed the leader of ISIS.
“Last night, on my orders, US military forces successfully removed the global leader of ISIS, known as Haji Abdullah, from a major terrorist threat to the world.” “He took over as leader of ISIS in 2019 after a counterterrorism operation by the United States killed Al Bhaghdadi,” Biden said from the Roosevelt Room. “This horrible terrorist leader is no longer alive thanks to the bravery of our troops.”
In the midst of reports of women and children being killed, Biden stated that he had directed the Department of Defense to “take every precaution possible to minimize civilian casualties.”
“Knowing that this terrorist had chosen to surround himself with families, including children, we made the decision to pursue a Special Forces raid at a much greater risk to our own people rather than target him with an airstrike,” Biden explained. “We made this decision to reduce civilian casualties.”
“We do know that as our troops approached to apprehend the terrorist, he chose to blow himself up — not just in the vest, but on the third floor, with no regard for the lives of his own family or others in the building — rather than face justice for the crimes he committed, taking several members of his family with him.” Just as his predecessor did,” Biden said.
Earlier in the day, the White House tweeted a photo of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the Situation Room, apparently watching the raid.
“We remain vigilant and ready,” Biden said. “Last night’s operation removed a major terrorist leader from the battlefield, sending a strong message to terrorists all over the world: We will come after you and find you.”
The Pentagon previously confirmed that US special operations forces conducted a “successful” counterterrorism mission in northwest Syria on Wednesday, but provided few other details.
“This evening, US Special Operations forces under the command of US Central Command conducted a counterterrorism mission in northwest Syria.” The mission was completed successfully. “There were no American casualties,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby in a statement. “More details will be provided as they become available.”
According to a US official, one of the helicopters used in the mission developed a mechanical problem and had to be blown up on the ground by US forces.
No information was provided on whether the operation included ground troops and helicopters, as claimed in a flurry of social media reports from Syria on Wednesday night.
Social media posts speculated about possible US military activity in Idlib province, a town in far western Syria near the Turkish border. Some posts included videos that appeared to show night scenes with gunfire and low-flying helicopters near the towns of Atmeh and Dar Ballout.
According to the opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, 13 civilians were killed as a result of the fighting and explosions at the raid site, including six children and four women.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor based in the United Kingdom, said in a press statement that nine people were killed during Wednesday’s mission, including at least two children and a woman. Local sources were cited by the group. Meanwhile, a US official told ABC News that the reported civilian casualties were not the result of US military fire, but rather occurred when the raid’s target detonated an explosive device at the start of the operation.
Approximately 1,000 US military personnel are stationed in eastern Syria to support the anti-ISIS mission.
American troops do not operate in government-controlled areas of northwestern Syria, particularly in Idlib province, which has long been a haven for extremists. They have, however, carried out counterterrorism missions in Idlib on a sporadic basis, using drone strikes to target various Islamic extremist groups. The highest profile mission was a ground raid that killed ISIS’ top leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, who was hiding out in a house close to the border with Turkey, on Oct. 27, 2019.