President Donald Trump highlighted recent military operations to take down terrorist groups and their leaders during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, and left terrorists with a stark warning.
In his remarks, Trump said, “Our message to the terrorists is clear: You will never escape American justice. If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life.”
Watch his comments in the video below, beginning at approximately 1:08:51:
Ahead of that message, Trump highlighted successes in combating ISIS during his administration, including the October raid to take down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
“Three years ago, the barbarians of ISIS-held over 20,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. Today, the ISIS territorial caliphate has been 100 percent destroyed, and the founder and leader of ISIS — the bloodthirsty killer known as al-Baghdadi — is dead,” Trump said.
Though ISIS fighters and cells are still active throughout the Middle East, the terror group’s formal territorial holdings collapsed in March when the group lost its final Syria stronghold in the Baghouz province. Anti-ISIS operations have continued in the months that followed the caliphate’s collapse.
Amid a controversial troop withdrawal from Syria in October, Trump ordered U.S. Special Operations forces to carry out a raid on Baghdadi’s northern Syrian compound. Those elite soldiers surrounded the Syrian compound and killed members of Baghdadi’s bodyguard before chasing the terror group’s leader into a dead-end tunnel. Baghdadi took his own life and killed three of his children with a suicide bomb.
In his remarks, Trump recognized Carl and Marsha Mueller; the parents of Kayla Mueller. Kayla, a humanitarian worker was kidnapped in 2013 by ISIS and held as Baghdadi’s personal prisoner for more than 500 days before he murdered her.
“On the night that U.S. Special Forces Operations ended al-Baghdadi’s miserable life, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, received a call in the Situation Room,” Trump said in his address. “He was told that the brave men of the elite Special Forces team that so perfectly carried out the operation had given their mission a name: ‘Task Force 8-14.’ It was a reference to a special day: August 14th — Kayla’s birthday.”
Trump continued, “Carl and Marsha, America’s warriors never forgot Kayla — and neither will we. Thank you.”
Trump also told the story of Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Hake during his the State of the Union address. Hake was the 2008 victim of a roadside bomb detonated in Iraq.
“The terrorist responsible for killing Sergeant Hake was Qassem Soleimani, who provided the deadly roadside bomb that took Chris’s life,” Trump said. “Soleimani was the Iranian regime’s most ruthless butcher, a monster who murdered or wounded thousands of American service members in Iraq.”
Soleimani was an Iranian general and leader of Iran’s Quds force, which has been accused of sponsoring proxy attacks against the U.S. and other countries fighting in the region.
Trump said Soliemani was also the mastermind behind more recent attacks in Iraq in December. The President touted the success of a Jan. 3 U.S. military operation which killed Soleimani in an airstrike while the Iranian general was traveling through Baghdad, Iraq.
Trump, in his Tuesday night remarks, described the killing of Soleimani as a success.
“Last month, at my direction, the U.S. military executed a flawless precision strike that killed Soleimani and terminated his evil reign of terror forever,” he said.
Many Democratic politicians, including the 2020 presidential candidates, criticized the strike as a dangerous escalatory act against Iran. Iran did retaliate against the strike with a missile attack on Jan. 8, which resulted in no U.S. deaths, but which has seen a growing number of U.S. troops diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries in the days and weeks after the missile strikes.