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Trump meets special forces team behind Baghdadi raid to award top unit citation

U.S. Army Rangers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, fire at an enemy bunker during Task Force Training on Camp Roberts, Calif., Feb. 1, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock/Released)
October 30, 2020

President Donald Trump visited Fort Bragg, N.C. on Thursday to award the top U.S. military unit citation to the special operations team members who carried out the Oct. 26, 2019 raid against the then-ISIS terrorist leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday tweeted, “Today, President @realDonaldTrump visited Army Special Operations Forces at Fort Bragg. He presented the Presidential Unit Citation to these brave heroes who conducted the successful al-Baghdadi raid. What an absolute honor to meet America’s best!”

The Presidential Unit Citation is the top unit-level award in the U.S. military.

McEnany told Fox News said Trump met with the members of the special operations unit for about an hour “just having casual conversations, answering questions.” She added that the opportunity to meet with the special operations unit “meant a lot to the president.”

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Trump’s visit came just after the one-year anniversary of the special operations raid that targeted Baghdadi’s compound in Idlib, Syria. The raid was carried out by the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and members of the U.S. Army’s elite and secretive 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, also known as Delta Force. The elite U.S. soldiers surrounded Baghdadi’s compound and killed multiple ISIS fighters, including five wearing suicide bomb vests.

Trump, describing the raid in 2019, said the elite U.S. soldiers also blew open a wall in Baghdadi’s compound, avoiding potential enemies lying in wait near the doors and windows of the compound.

“If you’re a normal person, you say, ‘Knock, knock.  May I come in?’” Trump said at the time. “The fact is that they blasted their way into the house and a very heavy wall, and it took them literally seconds.  By the time those things went off, they had a beautiful, big hole, and they ran in and they got everybody by surprise.”

During the raid, Baghdadi attempted to flee with two of his children, but the Delta Force team trapped them in a dead-end tunnel. The Delta Force team called for Baghdadi to surrender, but he instead detonated his own suicide vest, killing himself and the two children.

The U.S. raid to take down Baghdadi was named Operation Kayla Mueller, in tribute to a U.S. hostage believed to have been held captive and killed by Baghdadi.

According to a U.S. Army fact sheet on the Presidential Unit Citation, the commendation “is awarded to units of the Armed Forces of the United States and co-belligerent nations for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy occurring on or after 7 December 1941. The unit must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set it apart and above other units participating in the same campaign.”

The Army further stated, “The degree of heroism required is the same as that which would warrant award of a Distinguished Service Cross to an individual.”

The Distinguished Service Cross is the Army’s second-highest military honor, after the Medal of Honor. The award is the equivalent of the Navy and Marine Corps’ Navy Cross and the Air Force’s Air Force Cross.

According to the Army, the Presidential Unit Citation typically recognizes a single action or successive actions covering a brief time span.

“It is not reasonable to presume those entire units can sustain Distinguished Service Cross performance for extended time periods except under the most unusual circumstances,” the Army states. “Only on rare occasions will a unit larger than battalion qualify for award of this decoration.”