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Photo of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a rare appearance. He is sitting crossed legged near a rifle.
Islamic State Group/Al Furqan Media Network/Reuters
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, seen here in an ISIS broadcast.
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US special forces just took out the world’s most wanted man

By Daniel Wolfe

Donald Trump announced this morning that US special forces killed ISIS founder and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The raid took place Sunday morning local time in northwestern Syria. According to Trump, commandos cornered Baghdadi in a tunnel before “he ignited his [suicide] vest, killing himself and three children.”

Baghdadi was long considered the most wanted man in the world. The US had offered a $25 million reward for information concerning his whereabouts. He had arrived at the location in Syria 48 hours prior to the US raid, a senior Turkish official told the AP.

The military operation was three days in the making, said Trump, who thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq for their help with it. He went on to thank Syrian Kurds “for certain support they were able to give us.”

Baghdadi’s death follows Trump abruptly, and controversially, removing the US military presence in a part of Syria bordering Turkey. That move led to Turkey attacking Kurdish forces in the area who had been strong US allies in the fight against ISIS (Kurdish insurgents have long wanted separation from Turkey to establish an independent Kurdistan). It also created opportunities for ISIS, with more than 100 of its fighters escaping from Kurdish-run prisons.

But some US officials also saw potential opportunity, if ISIS leaders became more detectable communicating with operatives while taking advantage of the situation.

Ironically, the operation highlights the value of having US forces in the area. Indeed Trump had reversed course a bit in recent days, sending some troops back into Syria to protect oil fields that might otherwise fall into ISIS’s hands.

Last night, Trump teased today’s announcement with a vague tweet saying: “Something very big has just happened!” This morning, he described what it was like for him to view the operation from the White House Situation Room, saying it was “as though you were watching a movie.” He emphasized the “whimpering” and “crying” of Baghdadi’s last moments, and referred to members of ISIS as “losers,” “frightened puppies,” and “hardcore killers.”