REPORT: BAGHDADI RAID SUCCEEDED DESPITE, NOT BECAUSE OF TRUMP
The president’s instincts nearly bungled an already-complicated operation.
In the end, it worked: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a U.S. special forces raid in Syria, ridding the world of the brutal Islamic State leader and delivering Donald Trump a military victory. But the success of the mission was, it seems, no thanks to the president himself, whose abrupt decision to pull American troops out of Syria complicated the already-complex operation. “Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death in the raid on Saturday…occurred largely in spite of, and not because of, Mr. Trump’s actions,” the New York Times reported Sunday, citing military and counterintelligence officials familiar with the mission.
According to the Times, Trump’s withdrawal from Syria earlier this month threw a wrench into plans targeting al-Baghdadi, forcing military officials to speed up the mission aimed at taking out the ISIS leader. The Pentagon had reportedly been homing in on al-Baghdadi for months, thanks in part to intelligence provided by the Kurds Trump abandoned with his early October pull-out. But Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would clear out of Northern Syria, paving the way for a deadly Turkish incursion, put a ticking clock on the operation before “their ability to control troops, spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared.”
In spite of the challenges, the raid was successful. As Trump recounted in gory detail Sunday morning, U.S. forces entered the compound where the ISIS leader was hiding, pursuing him into an underground tunnel where he detonated an explosive vest he was wearing, killing himself and three of his children. Trump took credit for the raid, relishing in its morbid details and bragging that the terrorist eliminated under his watch was more important than the one taken out under Barack Obama. (Osama bin Laden only “became big with the World Trade Center,” Trump said of the 9/11 mastermind Sunday.) “He died like a dog,” Trump said of al-Baghdadi. “He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place.”
The military victory is likely to win Trump some pats on the back from his Republican supporters; Lindsey Graham, who’d been critical of his decision to withdraw from Syria, has already said that the president deserves a “great deal of credit” for the operation. In actuality, though, Trump’s instincts created obstacles to carrying out the mission. As Axios noted Monday, the raid “relied on many tools President Trump has spurned”—namely, a presence on the ground in the Middle East that Trump has decried and the Kurdish allies he hung out to dry in Northern Syria. The successful operation may temporarily quell criticisms of his decision-making. But when the dust settles, concerns about his approach to foreign policy will return.
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