U.S. releases Baghdadi raid video, warns of likely retribution attack

WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Wednesday released its first images from last weekend's commando raid in Syria that led to the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and warned the militant group may attempt to stage a "retribution attack."

The declassified, grainy, black-and-white aerial videos from Saturday's raid showed U.S. special operations forces closing in on the compound and U.S. aircraft firing on militants nearby.

The most dramatic video showed a massive, black plume of smoke rising from the ground after U.S. military bombs leveled Baghdadi's compound.

"It looks pretty much like a parking lot, with large potholes," said Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in the Middle East.

McKenzie, briefing Pentagon reporters, said the idea of destroying the compound was at least in part "to ensure that it would not be a shrine or otherwise memorable in any way.

"It's just another piece of ground," he said.

Baghdadi https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-baghdadi/trump-says-u-s-may-release-parts-of-baghdadi-raid-video-idUSKBN1X71DY, an Iraqi jihadist who rose from obscurity to declare himself "caliph" of all Muslims as the leader of Islamic State, died by detonating a suicide vest as he fled into a dead-end tunnel as elite U.S. special forces closed in.

McKenzie said he brought two young children into the tunnel with him - not three, as had been the U.S. government estimate. Both children were believed to be under the age of 12 and both were killed, he said.

He portrayed Baghdadi as isolated at his Syrian compound, just four miles from the Turkish border, saying fighters from other militant groups nearby probably did not even know he was there. McKenzie suggested it was unlikely that Baghdadi used the Internet or had digital connections to the outside world.

"I think you'd find (he was using) probably a messenger system that allows you to put something on a floppy or on a bit of electronics and have someone physically move it somewhere," he said.

McKenzie said Islamic State would likely try to stage some kind of retaliatory attack.

"We suspect they will try some form of retribution attack. And we are postured and prepared for that," he said.

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi raid
U.S. Central Command Commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie speaks, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, at a joint press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi raid. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
OCTOBER 30 - UNSPECIFIED, SYRIA: In this handout image provided by the Department of Defense, the approximate location of the U.S. Special Operations forces raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s compound is seen on October 30, 2019. On October 26, 2019, U.S. Special Operations forces closed in on al-Baghdadi’s compound in Syria with a mission to kill or capture the terrorist. (Photo by Department of Defense via Getty Images)
Video of the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi raid is displayed on a monitor as U.S. Central Command Commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie speaks at a joint press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
This image from video released by the Department of Defense on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, and displayed at a Pentagon briefing, shows an image before the raid of the compound of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Department of Defense via AP)
Video of the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi raid is displayed as U.S. Central Command Commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie speaks, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, at a joint press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
This image from video released by the Department of Defense on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, and displayed at a Pentagon briefing, shows fighters who demonstrated hostile intent to U.S. forces during the infiltration of the assault force in the raid on the compound of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Department of Defense via AP)
U.S. special forces move towards the compound of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a raid in the Idlib region of Syria in a still image from video October 26, 2019. Video picture taken October 26, 2019. U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
This image from video released by the Department of Defense on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, and displayed at a Pentagon briefing, shows an image from a remotely piloted aircraft shows the compound of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after the raid and moments before it was destroyed on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Department of Defense via AP)
Video of the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi raid is displayed as U.S. Central Command Commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie speaks, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, at a joint press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
This image from video released by the Department of Defense on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, and displayed at a Pentagon briefing, shows an image from a remotely piloted aircraft focused on the compound of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as it is destroyed after the raid on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Department of Defense via AP)
This image from video released by the Department of Defense on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, and displayed at a Pentagon briefing, shows an image from a remotely piloted aircraft focused on the compound of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as it is destroyed after the raid on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. (Department of Defense via AP)
OCTOBER 30 - UNSPECIFIED, SYRIA: In this handout image provided by the Department of Defense, a side-by-side comparison of the approximate location of the U.S. Special Operations forces raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s compound showing no collateral damage to adjacent structures is seen on October 30, 2019. On October 26, 2019, U.S. Special Operations forces closed in on al-Baghdadi’s compound in Syria with a mission to kill or capture the terrorist. (Photo by Department of Defense via Getty Images)
A working military dog is displayed on a monitor as U.S. Central Command Commander Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie speaks at a joint press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, on the Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi raid. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The military working dog who sustained minor injuries during the raid on the compound of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi near Idlib, Syria October 26, 2019 is seen in an undated photo released October 30, 2019. U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
IDLIB, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 28: A drone photo shows an aerial view of operation area where Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed in, on October 28, 2019 in northwestern Syria in Idlib, Syria . A U.S. raid that allegedly killed Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in northwestern Syria lasted for some four hours, according to local sources. The operation, in which helicopters, drones, and ground units were used, took place a few kilometers away from the Tourlaha camp, where displaced civilians have taken shelter in the northern Idlib province, said the sources, who asked not to be named due to security concerns. (Photo by Ahmet Weys/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A picture taken on October 28, 2019 shows Syrians sifting through the rubble at the site of a suspected US-led operation against Islamic State (IS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the previous day, on the edge of the small Syrian village of Barisha in the country's opposition-held northwestern Idlib province. - US President Donald Trump announced that Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the jihadist group and the world's most wanted man, was killed in the early hours of Octobe 27 in an overnight US raid near the village, located less than five kilometres from Turkey and controlled by the dominant jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an organisation that includes former operatives from Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate. (Photo by Omar HAJ KADOUR / AFP) (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty Images)
A picture taken on October 28, 2019 shows Syrians sifting through the rubble at the site of a suspected US-led operation against Islamic State (IS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the previous day, on the edge of the small Syrian village of Barisha in the country's opposition-held northwestern Idlib province. - US President Donald Trump announced that Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the jihadist group and the world's most wanted man, was killed in the early hours of Octobe 27 in an overnight US raid near the village, located less than five kilometres from Turkey and controlled by the dominant jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an organisation that includes former operatives from Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate. (Photo by Omar HAJ KADOUR / AFP) (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty Images)
A picture taken on October 28, 2019 shows Syrians sifting through the rubble at the site of a suspected US-led operation against Islamic State (IS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the previous day, on the edge of the small Syrian village of Barisha in the country's opposition-held northwestern Idlib province. - US President Donald Trump announced that Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the jihadist group and the world's most wanted man, was killed in the early hours of Octobe 27 in an overnight US raid near the village, located less than five kilometres from Turkey and controlled by the dominant jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an organisation that includes former operatives from Al-Qaeda's Syria affiliate. (Photo by Omar HAJ KADOUR / AFP) (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP via Getty Images)
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WHIMPERING AND CRYING?

McKenzie did not back up or knock down Trump's dramatic account of Baghdadi's final moments, which the president delivered during a televised address to the nation on Sunday. Trump said Baghdadi "died a coward — crying, whimpering, screaming." 

Asked about Trump's account, McKenzie said: "About Baghdadi's last moments, I can tell you this: He crawled into a hole with two small children and blew himself up as his people stayed on the ground."

"So you can deduce what kind of person he is based on that activity... I'm not able to confirm anything else about his last seconds. I just can't confirm that one way or another."

On Monday, Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also declined to confirm Trump's account, saying he presumed Trump got that information from his direct conversations with members of the elite unit that conducted the operation. Milley had not yet spoken with them, he said.

McKenzie suggested the U.S. military had secured a large amount of intelligence about Islamic State's activities during the raid.

"While the assault force was securing the remains, they also secured whatever documentation and electronics we could find, which was substantial," McKenzie said, declining to provide further details.

McKenzie said Turkey's incursion into Syria this month, and the U.S. pullback from the border, was not a factor in deciding the timing of the raid. Instead, McKenzie pointed to a host of other factors, including the amount of moonlight.

"We struck because the time is about right to do it then, given the totality of the intelligence and the other factors that would affect the raid force going into and coming out," McKenzie said.

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