The general who oversaw the U.S. raid on Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi provided the most detailed account yet of the operation Wednesday and said the U.S. is on alert for possible "retribution attacks" by extremists.
Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said al-Baghdadi's remains were buried at sea within 24 hours of his death inside an underground tunnel where he fled as special operations soldiers closed in on him.
The Pentagon released the first government photos and video clips of the nighttime operation, including one showing Delta Force commandos approaching the walls of the compound in which al-Baghdadi and others were found.
Another video showed American airstrikes on other militants who fired at helicopters carrying soldiers to the compound. The U.S. also bombed the compound after the soldiers completed the mission so that it would not stand as a shrine to al-Baghdadi.
"It looks pretty much like a parking lot with large potholes right now," McKenzie said.
The attacking American force launched from an undisclosed location inside Syria for the one-hour helicopter ride to the compound, McKenzie said.
Two children died with al-Baghdadi when he detonated a bomb vest, McKenzie said, adding that this was one fewer than originally reported. He said the children appeared to be under the age of 12. Eleven other children were escorted from the site unharmed. Four women and two men who were wearing suicide vests and refused to surrender inside the compound were killed, McKenzie said.
The general said the military dog that was injured during the raid is a four-year veteran with U.S. Special Operations Command and had been on approximately 50 combat missions.
The dog, a male whose name has not been released because the mission was classified, was injured when he came in contact with exposed live electrical cables in the tunnel after al-Baghdadi detonated his vest, McKenzie said. He said the dog has returned to duty.
Baghdadi was identified by comparing his DNA to a sample collected in 2004 by U.S. forces in Iraq, where he had been detained.
The U.S. managed to collect "substantial" amounts of documentation and electronics during the raid, McKenzie said, but he would not elaborate. Such efforts are a standard feature of raids against high-level extremist targets and can be useful in learning more about the group's plans.
Although the raid was successful, McKenzie said it would be a mistake to conclude that the Islamic State has been defeated.
"It will take them some time to re-establish someone to lead the organization, and during that period of time their actions may be a little bit disjointed," the general said. "They will be dangerous. We suspect they will try some form of retribution attack, and we are postured and prepared for that."
In outlining the operation, McKenzie said al-Baghdadi had been at the compound in Syria's northwest Idlib province for "a considerable period," but he was not specific.
He said the raid was briefed to President Donald Trump on Friday, and McKenzie made the decision to go ahead on Saturday morning.
McKenzie offered no new details about al-Baghdadi's final moments.
"He crawled into a hole with two small children and blew himself up while his people stayed on the grounds," he said when asked by a reporter about al-Baghdadi's last moments and Trump's description of the Islamic State leader as "whimpering and crying and screaming all the way" to his death.
Other senior Pentagon officials, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said they could not confirm Trump's description.
Several times this month, President Donald Trump has said he is withdrawing from Syria and that the troops are "coming home." But, in fact, the U.S. military remains in the country, shifting positions and gearing up to execute Trump's order to secure Syria's oil fields — not for the Syrian government but for the Kurds. Trump also has said he wants to "keep" the oil, although it's unclear what he means.
Earlier Wednesday, the acting homeland security secretary, Kevin McAleenan, told a congressional hearing that U.S. security agencies have been reminded of the potential for al-Baghdadi's death to inspire his followers to launch an attack "in the immediate aftermath."
Russell Travers, the acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the same hearing that he does not believe al-Baghdadi's death will have "much impact" on the organization.
"If there were significant attacks that were in the planning, that planning will continue. It won't have that much effect," Travers aid.
Within Syria and Iraq, he added, IS has at least 14,000 fighters.
"That's an important number," he said. "Because five, six years ago, when ISIS was at its low point, they were down under a thousand. To us, this tells us the insurgency has a lot of options."
FBI Director Chris Wray said the biggest concern in the United States was the "virtual caliphate" that inspires Americans to pledge allegiance to IS and commit acts of violence in the group's name even without traveling to Syria.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he worries that despite al-Baghdadi's death, the conditions in Syria "are ripe for ISIS to reconstitute."
Seattle, 30 Oct (AP/UNB) — A federal judge on Tuesday criticized the Justice Department for seeking legal fees from a Mexican immigrant who was the victim of a forgery by a government lawyer.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein on Tuesday denied the department's effort to make Ignacio Lanuza and his attorneys pay legal fees for his unsuccessful attempt to hold the government liable for the forgery. The fees could have topped $100,000.
Rothstein noted the wide discrepancy between Lanuza's resources and those of the government. She said the Justice Department's effort appeared to be motivated by "personal animus" on the part of a DOJ lawyer and the government's motion for legal fees chronicled "irrelevant matters that serve no purpose other than to disparage and embarrass Lanuza."
"It is not lost on the Court that Lanuza was a victim of a crime committed by an attorney for the United States, and that another attorney for the United States then took up the defense of Lanuza's civil case in a manner that bordered on the overzealous," Rothstein wrote.
Lanuza had been arrested on a gun charge and was in deportation proceedings in 2009 when Jonathan M. Love, then the assistant chief counsel for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle, forged a document purporting to show that Lanuza had agreed to return to Mexico in 2000.
An immigration judge ordered Lanuza deported based on the form.
But in 2011, Lanuza's new attorney realized the form's letterhead said "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" — a federal agency that didn't exist in 2000, when the document was dated. Following the forgery's discovery, Lanuza was awarded permanent resident status, allowing him to remain in the U.S. with his wife and two children, who are all American citizens.
Lanuza sued Love and the federal government in 2014, accusing the lawyer of violating his constitutional right to due process. He made several claims against the government, including malicious prosecution and infliction of emotional distress.
The case resulted in a precedent-setting ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which made clear that immigrants can obtain damages from individual federal officials for constitutional violations during immigration proceedings. Love paid the immigrant $6,250 to settle his part of the civil rights lawsuit. Love also pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge, spent a month in jail, gave up his law license for at least a decade and agreed to pay $12,000 in restitution to Lanuza.
But Lanuza's effort to hold the federal government financially responsible for its lawyer's conduct did not fare as well.
Rothstein dismissed the last remaining claim in August, and Timothy Durkin, an assistant U.S. attorney based in Spokane, then sought to recoup legal fees for having to respond to what he deemed a frivolous malicious prosecution claim. Durkin argued that there was no way Lanuza or his attorneys with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project could have won that claim.
In his motion for legal fees, Durkin discussed Lanuza's background at length, including Lanuza's previous efforts to enter the U.S. illegally and a drunken driving arrest, even though those facts bore no apparent relevance to the legal issue at hand. Durkin himself was arrested on a drunken driving charge early last year.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Spokane did not immediately return an email seeking comment from the office or from Durkin about Tuesday's ruling.
The judge said that during years of hard-fought litigation, both sides sometimes "lost perspective." But, she said, while Lanuza ultimately lost his malicious prosecution claim, it was brought in good faith and in no way frivolous.
Washington, Oct 29 (Xinhua/UNB) -- The Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's remains were buried at sea following his death in a U.S. military raid, reported U.S. media on Monday.
The United States gave al-Baghdadi, who committed suicide in a U.S. commando raid in northwestern Syria on Saturday night, a burial at sea, reported ABC News citing an anonymous U.S. official.
The source, not revealing any details of the burial, said that the procedure was similar to the one used to dispose of the remains of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, according to the report.
Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a press conference on Monday afternoon that the U.S. military disposed of al-Baghdadi's remains "appropriately in accordance with our SOPs (standard operating procedures), and in accordance with the law of armed conflict."
Before the disposal, the IS leader's remains were transported to a secure facility to confirm his identity with forensic DNA testing, Milley added.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Sunday the death of al-Baghdadi, 48, who killed himself by igniting a suicide vest in a U.S. military operation in Syria, a move that was hailed within the Trump administration while raising concern about possible retaliation and lingering problems in counterterrorism fights.
In 2011, the burial of bin Laden was conducted aboard aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the North Arabian Sea in accordance with the terror mastermind's own religious customs, according to U.S. officials.
Washington, Oct 29 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump have handed out candy to hundreds of military families and local schoolchildren as the White House got a head start on Halloween.
The children dressed up as astronauts, military officers, pirates and dinosaurs as they greeted the president and first lady one-by-one Monday. The Air Force Strolling Strings played "Thriller" from Michael Jackson, "The Addams Family" theme song and other spooky tunes to set the mood.
A Halloween display of Black Forest trees wrapped around the columns of the South Portico, while pumpkins lined the staircases.
Several agencies were also on hand to help in the fun, with the Secret Service showing off the presidential limo known as "The Beast" and NASA displaying the suit that astronauts wear for spacewalks.
Washington, Oct 29 (AP/UNB) — Pivoting from the dramatic killing of the Islamic State's leader, the Pentagon is increasing U.S. efforts to protect Syria's oil fields from the extremist group as well as from Syria itself and the country's Russian allies. It's a new high-stakes mission even as American troops are withdrawn from other parts of the country.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper says the military's oil field mission also will ensure income for Syrian Kurds who are counted on by Washington to continue guarding Islamic State prisoners and helping American forces combat remnants of the group — even as President Donald Trump continues to insist all U.S. troops will come home.
"We don't want to be a policeman in this case," Trump said Monday, referring to America's role after Turkey's incursion in Syria. In the face of Turkey's early October warning that it would invade and create a "safe zone" on the Syrian side of its border, Trump ordered U.S. forces to step aside, effectively abandoning a Kurdish militia that had partnered with U.S. troops.
Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at a Pentagon news conference to cheer the successful mission by U.S. special operations forces Saturday that ended with IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi blowing himself up. Esper called al-Baghdadi's death a "devastating blow" to an organization that already had lost its hold on a wide swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.
Milley said the U.S. had disposed of al-Baghdadi's remains "appropriately" and in line with the laws of armed conflict. He also said U.S. forces retrieved unspecified intelligence information from the site, which he described as a place in northwestern Syria where the IS leader had been "staying on a consistent basis."
A U.S. military dog that was slightly injured in the raid has recovered and is back at work, Milley said.
Esper hinted at uncertainty ahead in Syria , even though the Islamic State has lost its inspirational leader, with the Syrian government exploiting support from Russia and Iran.
"The security situation in Syria remains complex," Esper said.
A big part of that complexity is the rejiggering of the battlefield since Trump earlier this month ordered a full U.S. troop withdrawal from positions along the Turkish border in northeastern Syria. Even as those troops leave, other U.S. forces are heading to the oil-producing region of eastern Syria, east of the Euphrates River.
Trump recently has proposed hiring an American oil company to begin repairing Syria's oil infrastructure, which has been devastated by years of war. Repeated U.S. airstrikes against facilities for oil storage, transport, processing and refining starting in 2015 inflicted heavy damage.
Esper said last week that a "mechanized" force would reinforce U.S. positions in the oil region, meaning a force equipped with tanks or Bradley infancy carriers. On Monday he provided no details about the makeup of the force.
He referred to "multiple state and nonstate" forces vying for control of Syrian territory and resources, including the oil. He said that while the main U.S. military mission is to ensure the "enduring defeat" of the Islamic State, that now will include denying oil income for the group.
"The United States will retain control of oil fields in northeast Syria," Esper said, adding that at the height of al-Baghdadi's rule, those oil fields provided the bulk of his group's income.
Esper's remarks echoed Trump's focus on the oil. But whose oil is it?
"We're keeping the oil," Trump said during a speech to police officers in Chicago. "Remember that, I've always said that. Keep the oil. We want to keep the oil — $45 million a month — keep the oil. We've secured the oil."
Esper emphasized that the purpose of securing Syria's oil region is to deny income to the Islamic State. But a reporter asked whether the mission includes preventing Russian and Syrian government forces from entering that area.
"The short answer is yes, it presently does," Esper said, "because in that case we want to make sure" the Syrian Kurdish-led militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, "does have access to the resources in order to guard the prisons and arm their own troops, in order to assist us with the defeat-ISIS mission."
This area has been the scene of unusual confrontations with U.S. forces, such as a one-sided battle in February 2018 in which a pro-Syrian government force reported to be mainly private Russian mercenaries unleashed an artillery barrage near a small U.S. military outpost. As then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recounted the episode in congressional testimony two months later, he ordered the attacking force to be "annihilated - and it was" after Russian authorities insisted the attackers were not their troops.
Esper said Monday that he has seen no sign of Syrian or Russian forces challenging U.S. control of the oil fields.
In recent days, however, U.S. officials detected what they considered to be a significant massing of Syrian and Russian forces on the western side of the Euphrates River near Deir el-Zour, a U.S. official said Monday. Russian officials were contacted by phone, and the U.S. was given assurances that the staged forces would not move east, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
Jim Jeffrey, the Trump administration's special envoy for Syria, seemed to refer to this episode when he said last Friday, "We are currently very concerned about certain developments in the south, in the Deir el-Zour area. I've talked to my Russian colleague about that and we're having other contacts with the Russians concerning that situation. We think it is under control now."
After expelling Islamic State militants from southeastern Syria in 2018, the Kurds seized control of the more profitable oil fields to the south in Deir el-Zour province.
A quiet arrangement has existed between the Kurds and the Syrian government, whereby Damascus buys the surplus through middlemen in a profitable smuggling operation that has continued despite political differences. The Kurdish-led administration sells crude oil to private refiners, who use home-made primitive refineries to process fuel and diesel and sell it back to the Kurdish-led administration.
The oil was always likely to be a bargaining chip by the Kurds to negotiate a deal with the Syrian government, which unsuccessfully tried to reach the oil fields to retake them from IS. With Trump saying he plans to keep forces to secure the oil, it seems the oil will continue to be used for leverage— with Moscow and Damascus.