On Thursday, the Biden Administration announced that ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed in what the president called a “successful” special operations mission in northwestern Syria. The Pentagon confirmed the counterterrorism mission.
According to Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, there were no American casualties in the operation that spanned two hours. The military team on the ground executed the mission with the knowledge there was a family of civilians on the first floor of the building where al-Qurayshi, his wife and a number of children were present on the third floor.
al-Qurayshi was wearing a suicide bomber vest, which he would detonate, killing himself, his wife, and some of his children. The initial objective of the mission, Kirby told NPR on Friday, was to take the ISIS leader alive if possible. The military team surrounded the perimeter of the building, utilized a bullhorn to notify the innocent family on the ground floor of the mission, and allow them time to leave before the team entered the building to accost al-Qurayshi.
However, although the civilians on the ground floor did evacuate the building unharmed, the ISIS leader on the third floor would detonate the suicide vest before the military could overtake him, Kirby said during an NPR interview.
President Joe Biden spoke about the operation on Thursday: “Thanks to the bravery of our troops this horrible terrorist leader is no more. Our forces carried out the operation with their signature preparation and precision and I directed the Department of Defense to take every precaution to minimize civilian casualties.”
The Biden Administration would later say that al-Qurayshi’s detonation of the suicide bomber vest would be the cause of the death of the civilian children present, as well as the ISIS leader’s wife.
Biden added, “We do know that as our troops approached to capture the terrorist . . .he chose to blow himself up . . .not just with the vest, but to blow up that third floor rather than face justice . . .taking several members of his family with him.”
White House senior officials told Fox News that the planning for this operation was much like the planning that took place before the 2011 raid that would end with the death of Osama bin Laden.
According to the Biden Administration, al-Qurayshi never left his home in the building, only going to his rooftop occasionally. He relied on a lieutenant, who is said to have fought back against the military troops, as well as couriers to carry out operations for ISIS-related missions.
The White House has also said what John Kirby echoed on Friday morning: the civilian family on the first floor had no involvement in al-Qurayshi’s activities. They complied with the request of the US military troops to leave. Among the group was a ten-day-old infant.
Residents of Atmeh, Syria, told reporters on the ground from the Associated Press that there was a “large ground assault.” They described the operation as “the biggest since October 2019 killing of Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
According to local Omah Saleh, he was asleep when his doors and windows started to rattle at approximately 1:10 AM. He saw three helicopters upon rising and opening his windows. He confirmed that he heard a man using a loudspeaker to instruct women to either surrender or leave the area. Saleh described the speaker as using the Arabic language with either an Iraqi or a Saudi accent.
Saleh told Associated Press reporters that this urging lasted for forty-five minutes with no response before gunfire erupted. He said this continued for two hours and that aircraft “circled low over the area.”
At least one major explosion took place. U.S. officials told Fox News that one of the helicopters had a maintenance issue and “had to be blown up on the ground.”
According to the Syrian Observatory, there were at least nine people killed, two of them children. The White Helmets, which is civil defense group in Syria, tweeted that there were thirteen people, including four women and six children, killed during the raid.
At around 3:15, American troops entered the building; they sent an injured child to the hospital for treatment as well as another person who was merely a witness who came to the scene to see what was happening.
American officials told Fox News, “The suicide detonation caused some civilian casualties, but the number of civilian deaths reported on the ground do not correspond with what U.S. officials say occurred on the ground.”
John Kirby did not offer a number of casualties in his early morning interview with NPR.