Trump Provides Vivid Details Of Raid That Killed ISIS Leader

Oct 28, 2019
Originally published on October 28, 2019 3:51 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump offered an almost cinematic description of the U.S. military raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Here's Trump yesterday explaining how all of this unfolded in the White House Situation Room.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We were getting full reports on literally a minute-by-minute basis. Sir, we just broke in. Sir, the wall is down. Sir, you know, we've captured - sir, two people are coming out right now, hands up.

GREENE: So what does this raid teach us about the future of a terrorist organization and also about the policies of the president who ordered this raid? I want to begin with NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. He's in our studio in Washington, D.C. Hi there, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So what stood out to you as the president was describing all of this in such vivid detail yesterday?

MYRE: Well, precisely. I mean, I've never heard such a detailed description of a top-secret military operation by a president. Usually we have a few little pieces of information dribble out. These eight helicopters swooping in on Saturday night, the blasting through a wall to get into the compound where al-Baghdadi was, tracking him down a tunnel - he apparently had a suicide belt and three kids with him, and he blew himself up and killed the kids as well. You know, afterwards, the defense secretary, Mark Esper, spoke after the president finished. And of course, he was much more circumspect and didn't provide this level of detail.

GREENE: Which is the norm - which is - I mean, we journalists are often trying to get more details out of people when it comes to something like this, so...

MYRE: Right.

GREENE: You know, one thing the president said is that this is a huge loss for ISIS. As you've been talking to other people, does that seem to be the case?

MYRE: Well, it is if you look at ISIS as this terrorist group that ran an unprecedented operation controlling big chunks of two countries, administering cities, providing services, collecting taxes, recruiting worldwide with a very sophisticated online operation. You need a leader and organization and structure to do that. But the counterargument would be, if you're just looking at ISIS as a ordinary terrorist group, they still have probably 15,000 fighters scattered around Iraq and Syria. They're - they range from North Africa to Yemen to Afghanistan. They can still disrupt, carry out one-off terror attacks.

GREENE: What does history show? I mean, like, a group like al-Qaida losing Osama bin Laden, and then what happened since then?

MYRE: Right. So when bin Laden was killed back in 2011, al-Qaida had already been weakened, and this further weakened them. And he was trying to have this sort of global jihad, so it was a real blow. The countervailing argument would be the Taliban, which has lost leaders and continued right on. And I think the advantage the Taliban have is they're an Afghan group that just play on their home field, and they have local support - much more difficult to root them out and disrupt them than some organization that's trying to act on a global scale.

GREENE: Some describe the president's appearance yesterday as very Trumpian (ph) because he focused a lot on his own role in all of this. What did he say about that?

MYRE: Yeah. What struck me was some of the things he said about - he knew about this operation two weeks ago, which meant that he was talking about this withdrawal of American troops from Syria while this specific operation was being planned. And he said that the troops seized valuable information at Baghdadi's compound which could be used for further action. But you need troops, you need partners to carry out those kinds of actions.

GREENE: NPR's Greg Myre in our studios in Washington. Greg, thanks a lot. We really appreciate it.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.