'Final Act of Desperate Cowardice': Biden Claims Daesh Leader Blew Himself Up During US Raid
12:54 GMT 03.02.2022 (Updated: 17:59 GMT 03.02.2022)
© REUTERS / MOHAMED AL-DAHERA building destroyed in the aftermath of a counter-terrorism mission conducted by the U.S. Special Operations Forces is seen in Atmeh, Syria, February 3, 2022. Mohamed Al-Daher/Handout via REUTERS REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
© REUTERS / MOHAMED AL-DAHER
On Thursday, Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby announced that US Spec Ops forces had successfully completed a counterterrorism operation in Idlib province, northwestern Syria. Thirteen people, including civilians, were reported to have died in the raid.
The United States has eliminated Daesh's top commander, President Joe Biden has announced.
"Last night at my direction, US military forces in northwestern Syria successfully undertook a counterterrorism operation to protect the American people and our allies, and make the world a safer place. Thanks to the skill and bravery of our Armed Forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi- the leader of ISIS. All Americans have returned safely from the operation," Biden said in a short statement on Thursday.
"Our forces carried out the operation with their signature preparation and precision, and I directed the department of Defence to take every precaution possible to minimize civilian casualties," Biden said in an expanded briefing to reporters later in the day. "Knowing that this terrorist had chosen to surround himself with families, including children, we made a choice to pursue a Special Forces raid at a much greater risk to our own people rather than targeting him with an airstrike."
"Our team is still compiling the report, but we do know that as our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard to the lives of his own family or others in the building, he chose to blow himself up, not just with a vest but to blow up that third floor rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed, taking several members of his family with him, just as his predecessor did," Biden added.
Al-Qurashi, 45, was dubbed the second "caliph" of the Islamic State, aka ISIS, aka Daesh, a terrorist group outlawed across the globe, including Russia, after its first leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a US raid in October 2019, also in Idlib province.
US commandos descended on the village of Atmeh, situated in Turkish-backed rebel-held Idlib, aboard helicopter gunships in the early hours of 3 February, killing al-Qurashi and scores of other people, including civilians, according to media reports.
A Syrian military spokesman confirmed to Sputnik that 13 people were killed in the US raid.
Later Thursday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that there were "strong, strong indications" that Daesh, not US forces, caused the civilian deaths, and that the victims included al-Qurashi's wife and her two children.
The Pentagon spox also confirmed that the US strike team damaged its own helicopter. Officials earlier told reporters that the damaged chopper was grounded and blown up during the course of the operation.
Idlib Terror Stronghold
The village of Atmeh is situated just over the border from Turkey. It's not clear whether Ankara was made aware of the operation ahead of time. Biden made no mention of Turkey during Thursday's announcement, but did say that the US was "aided by the essential partnership of the Syrian Democratic Forces," the Syrian Kurdish militia force in control of large swathes of northeastern Syria together with US troops. Turkey classifies the SDF as a "terrorist organization." In his comments later in the day, Kirby said that only US forces were involved in the raid.
Idlib is home to tens of thousands of militants who evacuated to the region from the rest of Syria amid a series of successful offensives by the Syrian government to clear the country of rebel and jihadist forces. It is often characterised by Western media as Syria's "last rebel stronghold." Areas in the north and northeast of the country are occupied directly by Turkish forces, as well as US-backed Syrian Kurdish militias. The US also has a garrison in southern Syria on the border with Iraq and Jordan.
Damascus has vowed to one day restore full control over all of its territories, including Idlib, and has urged all foreign forces not invited into the country by its internationally recognized government to exit immediately. Syrian authorities and media have also accused the US and its allies of working with Daesh and other terrorist groups directly, and of transporting terror commanders aboard helicopter gunships and providing weapons and training to jihadist fighters.