U.S. forces were able to find ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and determine the best place to launch a raid against him as a result of an intelligence break when an ISIS fighter turned informant on the terror group leader.
Unnamed U.S. and Middle-Eastern intelligence officials with apparent close knowledge of the raid said Baghdadi’s whereabouts were revealed through an ISIS mole, according to the Washington Post. The informant was reportedly very close to Baghdadi, having helped the ISIS leader travel throughout Syria and had even overseen construction work on the safe house where Baghdadi eventually killed himself with a suicide bomb.
This same informant was reportedly present at Baghdadi’s compound in the Idlib province of Syria when U.S. forces performed their raid on his compound Saturday night.
The ISIS defector-turned informant was an intelligence source first recruited by the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), according to one intelligence source. This well-placed informant may have also been a Sunni Arab, who turned against ISIS after they killed one of his relatives.
The SDF reportedly turned the informant over to U.S. intelligence officials, who began to vet him to determine if he was a credible source for information about Baghdadi’s whereabouts. Those U.S. intelligence officials then began an effort over the course of many months to learn about Baghdadi and find the right moment to strike against him.
One U.S. intelligence official told the Washington Post that the opportunity to take down Baghdadi only appeared within recent weeks. Plans to take down Baghdadi were reportedly shifted, altered or canceled on a number of occasions before the eventual opportunity came about.
One intelligence official said the raid was finally done out of concern Baghdadi would move again and become more difficult to attack.
The timing of the Baghdadi raid coincided with a decision by President Donald Trump to pull many U.S. troops from Syria – a decision that raised concern among U.S. lawmakers who worried at the abandonment of the U.S.-allied Kurds and the potential for an ISIS resurgence in Syria. Lawmakers did indeed condemn Trump’s Syria withdrawal in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote.
As part of the efforts to enable the U.S. Army Delta Force raid against Baghdadi, the informant reportedly stole some of the ISIS leader’s personal items, including underwear, to confirm Baghdadi’s identity as the man living in the Syrian compound.
No Pentagon or White House officials have spoken publicly to confirm the use of the ISIS informant or their connection with the SDF.
“I’m not going to comment on what may or may not have happened with the SDF on the objective,” said Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “The actions on the objective, the aircraft coming in, the aircraft overhead and the soldiers conducting the assault, was a U.S.-only operation.”
The informant and his family were reportedly extracted from Syria two days after the completion of the Delta Force raid against Baghdadi.
Baghdadi had a $25 million bounty on his head at the time of the raid. The informant could receive some, if not all of the bounty.