In the days following the operation that took out Islamic State (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria took aim at the remnants of the terror group’s leadership.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which provided key assistance which helped U.S. Special Forces track down Baghdadi, said on Oct. 28 that it had carried out a series of raids on top ISIS targets.
“Another successful raid targeting & arresting senior ISIS members,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted.
Meanwhile, a U.S. official confirmed to Voice of America that Baghdadi, who died after detonating a suicide vest when he was cornered in a tunnel, has been buried at sea.
The U.S. military disposed of Baghdadi’s remains “appropriately, in accordance with our (standard operating procedures) and in accordance with the law of armed conflict,” Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters.
The U.S. said it afforded Baghdadi religious rites according to Islamic custom but did not disclose where the rite was performed or how long it lasted.
Milley also said “There was material taken away,” from the raid on the compound in northern Syria where Baghdadi was hiding out.
Milley also confirmed two ISIS members were taken alive. “They’re in our custody,” he said.
The U.S. State Department said the SDF played a “key role” in enabling the U.S. raid on Baghdadi’s compound in Bashira, Syria.
A State Department official also confirmed the SDF’s claims that its forces had killed Baghdadi’s likely successor, ISIS spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, in a separate operation Sunday in the town of Jarablus, near the Syrian border with Turkey.
Pentagon officials said U.S. forces were not involved in the strike that killed al-Muhajir, though the State Department said U.S. assets were involved.
SDF officials said that they had been tracking Baghdadi for months and been in close contact with the U.S. on his movements.
“Since 15 May, we have been working together with the CIA to track Baghdadi and monitor him closely,” senior SDF adviser Polat Can said on Twitter.
Can said the SDF had watching al-Baghdadi as he moved from Dashisha, in eastern Syria, to Deir El-Zor, before finally making a move to the compound near the Turkish border where he met his end.
“Our own source, who had been able to reach al-Baghdadi, brought Baghdadi’s underwear to conduct a DNA test and make sure [100 percent] that the person in question was al-Baghdadi himself,” Can said of the access the SDF spy was able to get. “Our intelligence source was involved in sending coordinates, directing the airdrop, participating in and making the operation a success until the last minute.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Oct. 28 said the U.S. raid that led to Baghdadi’s death was a “devastating blow for the remnants of ISIS” and promised that the U.S. would continue to be in close contact with the SDF.
“Baghdadi’s death will not rid the world of terrorism or end the ongoing conflict in Syria,” Esper said while briefing reporters. “But it will certainly send a message to those who would question America’s resolve.”