The operation that ended with the death of the leader of the terrorist group Islamic State (IS), Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurashi, took months to plan and took place in an atmosphere of high tension due to the presence of civilians and children in the building where the target was located. Senior officials gave details Thursday of how the operation was organized and carried out, although they declined to confirm the number of fatalities, which — according to the White Helmets and UNICEF rescuers — totaled 13, including 6 minors. These are the keys to the operation.
Months of preparation
The planning of the operation lasted “months”: Biden was first informed about it in December, when his intelligence team was completely certain that it was Al Qurashi who was hiding in a building in the Atme area, in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, a place full of children.
Biden himself explained in a speech at the White House that this context motivated his decision to conduct a special forces raid, something much riskier for the American military, rather than launching an airstrike. The president gave the green light for the operation Tuesday morning in the Oval Office, and Wednesday night he oversaw key aspects of the operation from the White House Situation Room, he stated.
According to the source, who requested anonymity, there was enormous tension, given the number of children known to be in the house.
At the beginning of the operation, U.S. forces entered the building and asked everyone to leave, after which one family living on the second floor came out and was moved to safety. In total, there were eight children who got out of the building and were saved, including four who were on the second floor, where American forces killed another IS terrorist and his wife, according to the official.
Al Qurashi was on the third floor and, shortly after the operation began, decided to blow himself up by detonating an explosive that killed several members of his family, Biden said in his speech. Specifically, that suicide act killed the IS leader, a woman and three children, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki later told reporters. According to the official, the explosion was so powerful on the third floor that it blew bodies out of the house and into the surrounding areas.
Before launching the operation, the government had been highly confident that the building where al-Qurashi was hiding was structurally sound and would not collapse if the jihadist committed suicide by detonating a bomb.
The special forces knew that a lieutenant of Al Qurashi, an unidentified IS terrorist, lived on the second floor and barricaded himself and his wife on that floor. Both opened fire on the special team, which eventually killed them, and then four children who were on that story came out and were taken to safety, according to the official, who acknowledged that he did not know if there could be more minors in the room where the jihadist and his wife were killed.
The main setback in the operation, in which there were no American casualties, was a mechanical failure in a helicopter, which had to be moved to another location and eventually destroyed, according to the official.
The official justified the decision to carry out the operation in a building inhabited by civilians by stating that al-Qurashi never left the house, except for occasionally going up to the roof to bathe. He directed (the Islamic State’s operations) through messengers who came and went, and used innocent people (living in the building) as a shield, the source added.