Things to know about US raid that killed ISIS leader

The United States carried out a raid early Thursday that killed Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.

The operation, carried out in Syria, comes amid concerns about a potential resurgence from the terrorist group. And it reflects the ongoing nature of U.S. involvement in military operations overseas, even after President Biden pulled American forces out of Afghanistan last year. 

Here are five things to know about the raid. 

Who was Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi? 

Al-Qurayshi took over as the head of ISIS after a 2019 U.S. operation killed then-leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, though he remained largely off the grid and out of the public eye. 

Little is known about al-Qurayshi, as he did not appear on video or give public statements. He was born in Iraq and was 45 years old. Officials said that he never left the house that was the site of the raid and that he used couriers to communicate.  

His death was hailed by the administration as a major victory in the fight against terrorism. 

The State Department listed al-Qurayshi as a specially designated global terrorist in early 2020 after he was named the new ISIS leader, and the U.S. offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture. 

President Biden on Thursday said al-Qurayshi “oversaw the spread of ISIS-affiliated terrorist groups around the world after savaging communities and murdering innocents.” 

He was also directly responsible for attacking a Syrian prison holding ISIS fighters. The ensuing battle with Syrian Democratic Forces left hundreds dead. 

“Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more,” Biden said. 

“Qurayshi’s ruinous legacy of genocide and destruction has now ended. And ISIS has suffered another painful blow,” tweeted Masrour Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan region of Iraq. 

A raid instead of a drone strike 

Officials said that U.S. forces conducted a raid with ground troops instead of a drone strike in order to avoid excessive casualties in the residential home where al-Qurayshi lived. 

Biden, who received updates on the raid in real time from the White House Situation Room, commented that the U.S. military chose to conduct the raid over an air strike to minimize civilian casualties.  

“Knowing that this terrorist had chosen to surround himself with families, including children, we made a choice to pursue a special forces raid at a much greater risk to our own people, rather than targeting him with an air strike,” he said. 

A senior administration official said that the ISIS leader appeared to “purposefully” live in a dwelling with a family on the first floor that officials do not believe had any affiliation with the terror group.  

“The president of course directed the Department of Defense to take every precaution to minimize noncombatant casualties in this operation,” the official said.  

Officials said U.S. forces called out to civilians as they entered the house so that people could leave and that the forces were at heightened risk because of the nature of the operation. 

There are conflicting reports on casualties 

While a full assessment of casualties is being conducted, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that the U.S. currently believes that three civilians were killed on the third floor with al-Qurayshi and one child was killed on the second floor of the house.  

The White Helmets, a Syrian civil defense group, reported that at least 13 bodies were found, including six children and four women. A senior administration official suggested that reported death tolls were not accurate.  

Al-Qurayshi detonated a bomb and killed himself as well as members of his family, destroying much of the top floor of the residence he was hiding in, officials said.  

An ISIS lieutenant also barricaded himself on the second floor of the house and got into a firefight with U.S. forces, a senior administration official said. He and his wife were killed in the raid.    

No U.S. forces died in the raid.  

The senior administration official said that a family with several children escaped from the bottom floor of the house and that children escaped from the second floor after the ISIS lieutenant was killed.  

Biden and the White House laid the blame on al-Qurayshi for civilian deaths, with Biden calling it a “final act of desperate cowardice” for al-Qurayshi to blow up himself when U.S. troops approached because it killed members of his family and others. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that al-Qurayshi self-detonating and killing his family members “shows again the brutality of ISIS.”  

A ‘blow’ to ISIS 

The raid on Wednesday is considered the largest scale operation against ISIS since Baghdadi was killed in 2019, and White House officials are characterizing it as a major blow to ISIS. 

“His death, we believe, dealt a significant blow to ISIS,” Kirby told reporters.  

Psaki said that killing al-Qurayshi “delivers a catastrophic blow to ISIS.”  

The raid follows the December attack by more than 100 ISIS fighters on a prison in northeast Syria in an attempt to free jailed members of the terrorist group. Biden said al-Qurayshi was responsible for the attack on the jail.  

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the raid “significant” but expressed concern over ISIS’s growing presence in Afghanistan.   

“At the same time, we [got to] keep a very close eye on what's happening in Afghanistan, where ISIS is increasingly flowing personnel and leadership, and we would not be able to conduct such an operation. Let me put it this way: It's a lot harder to do that in Afghanistan, if that’s where that guy would have been,” the senator told The Hill. 

It’s an accomplishment for Biden  

When Biden pulled U.S. troops out of Afghanistan in August, allies and critics alike expressed concerns about what it could mean for an ISIS resurgence. 

The successful raid can be highlighted by the administration as a response to such criticism, bolstering Biden’s argument that his decisions are keeping Americans safe.

Psaki told reporters that during the raid Biden “was thinking about the role he plays as commander in chief in keeping the country safe, and certainly taking out the current head of ISIS is a big step forward in that.” 

The raid also supplied an inarguable foreign policy win for Biden, with even former Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledging the world is safer with al-Qurayshi gone. 

Republicans are applauding Biden for taking out the ISIS commander but attacking the administration in the same breath over terrorist threats that could emanate from Afghanistan, where they say the chaotic U.S. withdrawal left a void of lawlessness.  

“For those who claim we no longer need troops in the Middle East, we cannot conduct these types of missions without nearby bases, intelligence, special forces, and local allies,” Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.), a former Green Beret who served in the Middle East, said in a statement. “We currently have NONE of these capabilities to address the resurgence of ISIS and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and I hope the Biden Administration takes necessary steps to address this growing threat. God bless our brave service members.”  

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