The US military has said it expects a retribution attack in the wake of the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as it released the first footage of the raid by commandos on the Isis leader’s hideout.
The Pentagon showed brief black-and-white aerial footage on Wednesday night of the raid and the subsequent bombing of Baghdadi’s compound in northern Syria.
One video showed small black silhouettes of US soldiers approaching the walls of the compound. In another bombs could be seen falling on the site followed by a flash and the screen turning grey.
The head of US Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie, said the bombing took place after all the attackers and survivors had been evacuated, and was carried out so that the compound near the Turkish border did not become a shrine.
McKenzie was unable to confirm Trump’s claim that the Isis leader was “crying, whimpering” in the moments before his death.
He said Baghdadi’s remains – collected after he blew himself up in a tunnel, killing two children he had taken with him – had been buried at sea. McKenzie said initial reports said three children, but later analysis showed two. Both were under 12 years old, he said.
McKenzie said the US was under no illusions it had destroyed Isis, and warned the group would try to take revenge.
“They will be dangerous. We suspect they will try some form of retribution attack,” he said. “We don’t see a bloodless future because unfortunately this ideology is going to be out there.”
However McKenzie predicted that the campaign against Baghdadi would grind down Isis capabilities.
“We think there’s a way to get to a point where it’s going to be less and less effective over time,” he said. “It will take them some time to reestablish someone to lead the organisation and during that period of time, their actions may be a little bit disjointed.”
The CentCom commander denied that the timing of the Saturday night raid on Baghdadi’s compound, which he described as “exquisitely planned”, was dictated by Trump’s order for US troops to withdraw from the border area.
“We chose the time based on a variety of factors: weather, certainty, lunar data,” McKenzie said. “While it might have been convenient to use bases there, the US military has the capability to go almost anywhere.”
He acknowledged that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) provided “early intelligence” which had been very helpful, and the SDF were therefore part of the operation, but did not participate in the raid.
He did not comment on SDF claims and media reports that the Syrian Kurds had a spy inside Baghdadi’s inner circle, who led US troops to the compound.
McKenzie said that four women and one man were killed in exchange of fire as US forces assaulted the compound. Two men were taken prisoner.
“After this engagement, and once established inside the compound, US forces discovered Baghdadi hiding in a tunnel. When capture at the hands of US forces was imminent, Baghdadi detonated a bomb, killing himself, and two young children that were with him,” he said.
“Following collection of samples for formal DNA analysis, Baghdadi’s remains were buried at sea, in accordance with the law of armed conflict within 24 hours of his death.”