WASHINGTON — U.S. forces rehearsed the helicopter raid time and again, hoping to seize Islamic State’s chief on the third ground of a residential constructing in a Syrian city on the Turkish border, the place he was holed up together with his household.
However earlier than they may attain him, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi detonated a suicide bomb, triggering a big 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 Home’s Scenario Room, known as Quraishi’s suicide a “last act of determined cowardice.” It echoed 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 attempting to evacuate civilians from the cinder-block constructing, utilizing loudspeakers to inform them to depart.
“Males, girls, and youngsters elevate your arms. You might be in security of the American coalition that’s surrounding the world. You’ll die should you don’t get out,” mentioned one girl recounting the U.S. warnings.
Marine Common Frank McKenzie, who oversees U.S. forces within the area and was offering updates to Biden, mentioned U.S. troops acquired six civilians, together with 4 kids, to depart the primary ground of the constructing earlier than the blast ripped aside the highest ground.
“The explosion, which was extra large than could be anticipated from a suicide vest, killed everybody on the third ground and actually ejected a number of folks from the constructing,” McKenzie mentioned, including that Quraishi, his spouse, and two kids died.
As U.S. troops superior to the second ground, one in every of Quraishi’s lieutenants and his spouse began firing on the Individuals and had been killed. One youngster was discovered lifeless there, McKenzie mentioned, and three different kids and an toddler had been delivered to security from the second ground.
Syrian rescue staff mentioned at the very least 13 folks died, most of them girls and youngsters.
The Pentagon mentioned at the very least two armed members of an area 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 web site.
Goal on the third ground
U.S. officers mentioned Quraishi’s loss of life was one other setback for a bunch that when dominated a self-proclaimed caliphate stretching throughout the territory in Syria and Iraq. It’s now waging rebel assaults.
Planning for the operation started in early December, when officers grew to become satisfied the Islamic State chief was residing within the constructing, the officers mentioned.
One official mentioned the operation was sophisticated by the actual fact Quraishi hardly ever left his residence on the constructing’s third ground and relied on couriers to work together with the skin world.
The variety of kids seen within the space and households believed to be residing on the primary ground led U.S. officers to attempt to craft a mission aiming to safeguard civilians, they mentioned.
That finally required placing U.S. forces in danger in a raid, as an alternative of launching a distant strike, the officers mentioned.
U.S. army procedures to protect in opposition to 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 hit.
The Pentagon mentioned it will assessment all the knowledge from the Atmeh raid to make sure no civilians had been harmed by U.S. forces, however burdened all indications thus far had been that civilian deaths had been attributable to Islamic State fighters themselves.
Biden gave last approvals for the mission on Tuesday throughout an Oval Workplace assembly with Protection Secretary Lloyd Austin and Common Mark Milley, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Employees is the highest American army officer, U.S. officers mentioned.
Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and different administration officers obtained real-time updates from Austin, Milley, and McKenzie as they watched the operation unfold from the Scenario Room, the officers mentioned.
At one level, a helicopter concerned within the raid suffered a mechanical failure and needed to be destroyed fairly than left behind, the Pentagon mentioned.
Biden mentioned “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 mentioned.
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