WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. forces rehearsed the helicopter raid time and again, hoping to seize Islamic State’s chief on the third flooring of a residential constructing in a Syrian city on the Turkish border, the place he was holed up together with his household.
But earlier than they may attain him, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi detonated a suicide bomb, triggering a giant explosion that blew mangled our bodies — together with his personal — out of the constructing into the streets exterior.
President Joe Biden, who monitored the raid from the White House’s Situation Room, referred to as Quraishi’s suicide a “remaining act of determined cowardice.” It echoed of the self-detonation of a bomb by his predecessor, Islamic State founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, throughout a U.S. raid in 2019 in Syria.
For residents within the city of Atmeh, the occasions had been terrifying, as U.S. forces swept in aboard helicopters earlier than making an attempt to evacuate civilians from the cinder-block constructing, utilizing loudspeakers to inform them to depart.
“Men, ladies, and youngsters elevate your fingers. You are in security of the American coalition that’s surrounding the world. You will die if you do not get out,” stated one girl recounting the U.S. warnings.
Marine General Frank McKenzie, who oversees U.S. forces within the area and was offering updates to Biden, stated U.S. troops obtained six civilians, together with 4 kids, to depart the primary flooring of the constructing earlier than the blast ripped aside the highest flooring.
“The explosion, which was extra large than could be anticipated from a suicide vest, killed everybody on the third flooring and in reality ejected a number of folks from the constructing,” McKenzie stated, including that Quraishi, his spouse and two kids died.
A second U.S. official later stated two of Quraishi’s wives and one youngster had been killed.
As U.S. troops superior to the second flooring, one of Quraishi’s lieutenants and his spouse began firing on the Americans and had been killed. One youngster was discovered lifeless there, McKenzie stated, and three different kids and an toddler had been dropped at security from the second flooring.
Syrian rescue staff stated no less than 13 folks died, most of them ladies and youngsters.
The Pentagon stated no less than two armed members of a native al Qaeda affiliate had been killed by gunfire from a U.S. helicopter after they approached the scene of the raid whereas U.S. troops had been nonetheless on the website.
TARGET ON THIRD FLOOR
U.S. officers stated Quraishi’s demise was one other setback for a group that after dominated a self-proclaimed caliphate stretching throughout territory in Syria and Iraq. It is now waging rebel assaults.
Planning for the operation started in early December, when officers turned satisfied the Islamic State chief was dwelling within the constructing, the officers stated. Biden acquired a detailed briefing on choices for capturing Quraishi alive on Dec. 20, a senior White House official stated.
One official stated the operation was difficult by the actual fact Quraishi hardly ever left his residence on the constructing’s third flooring and relied on couriers to work together with the skin world.
The quantity of kids seen within the space and households believed to be dwelling on the primary flooring led U.S. officers to attempt to craft a mission aiming to safeguard civilians, they stated.
That in the end required placing U.S. forces in danger in a raid, as an alternative of launching a distant strike, the officers stated.
U.S. army procedures to protect towards civilian casualties are underneath scrutiny following a high-profile mistaken drone strike in Kabul throughout the U.S. evacuation of civilians from Afghanistan that the Pentagon initially hailed a success.
The Pentagon stated it will evaluation all the knowledge from the Atmeh raid to make sure no civilians had been harmed by U.S. forces, however confused all indications to this point had been that civilian deaths had been brought on by Islamic State fighters themselves.
Biden gave remaining approvals for the mission on Tuesday throughout an Oval Office assembly with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the highest American army officer, U.S. officers stated.
Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and different administration officers acquired real-time updates from Austin, Milley and McKenzie as they watched the operation unfold on a number of screens from the Situation Room, the officers stated.
Biden joined the group within the Situation Room round 5 p.m. ET on Wednesday after ending a name with French President Emmanuel Macron on an unrelated matter, the White House official stated.
At one level, a helicopter concerned within the raid suffered a mechanical failure and needed to be destroyed fairly than left behind, the Pentagon stated.
Biden stated “God bless our troops” as soon as U.S. forces had been wheels up after the operation, and stored tabs on them throughout the night time as they flew to security, officers stated.
Once U.S. forces had been in security, Biden mirrored on an airstrike carried out in 2015 – when he was serving as vice chairman – that killed one other ISIS chief and injured Quraishi, costing him a leg, the White House official stated.
Milley informed Biden that U.S. forces hit “a visible ID jackpot” once they seen Quraishi’s physique and confirmed his id utilizing biometric knowledge taken from a fingerprint throughout the flight again, the official stated. They waited to announce his demise till after a DNA check was accomplished, the official added.
“He was on our goal record from the earliest days of the marketing campaign. He was Baghdadi’s right-hand man, and … was personally accountable for some of probably the most vicious ISIS atrocities,” the official.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by John Davidson, Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mary Milliken, Will Dunham, Chizu Nomiyama, Daniel Wallis and Michael Perry)