WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was behind the recruitment of a crucial defector whose information led to the successful raid by US special forces on the compound of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, The Washington Post reported late on Tuesday.
Citing “two current and former US officials and a Middle-East based official,” the Post explained that the SDF had “cultivated as an asset,” a defector from the Islamic State.
The informant turned against the terrorist organization, one official told the Post, because it had killed one of his relatives. Yet the man remained “a trusted facilitator and logistics aide” who helped Baghdadi “move among safe houses in the Idlib area” and “even helped oversee construction work on his Syrian safe house.”
He provided “essential personal details” to US intelligence, including the information that Baghdadi “always traveled with a suicide belt,” so he could kill himself, if circumstances required. And he “was so trusted that at times, he escorted members of Baghdadi’s family to get medical care.” the Post said.
The report confirms what SDF leader Mazloum Abdi told NBC News on Monday: the SDF had recruited a source in “Baghdadi’s inner circle,” who provided “a room-by-room layout of the terror leader’s compound on the Turkish border, including the number of guards, floor plan, and tunnels.”
Neither the Post nor NBC explained how long Baghdadi had been in Idlib, although The New York Times reported that his residence in the northwestern Syrian town of Barisha, three miles from the Turkish border, goes back to July, at least.
There are “serious questions” about “how one of the most wanted terrorists in the world was able to stay for months in a safe house so close to Turkey’s border,” Nicholas Heras, a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told The National Interest.
A similar question arose with the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Ladin. He was thought to be somewhere in the wilds of Afghanistan. Instead, he was found, with his wives and children, in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Analysts asked then: how could the Pakistani government not have known?
Once the SDF had developed its informant, they passed him on to US intelligence, which vetted him extensively. In 2009, in Afghanistan, the CIA received an informant from Jordanian intelligence, who turned out to be a double agent.
The informant claimed to be the physician to Ayman al-Zawahiri, a senior al-Qaida figure, but when he met with CIA agents on a US military base, he blew himself up, killing seven Americans, as well as a Jordanian intelligence official and their Afghan driver.
Of course, nothing like that happened with the man who informed on Baghdadi. As the Post reported, he was present at the time of the raid. He and his family were taken out of Syria, and he is set to receive part, or even all, of the $25 million that the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program was offering for information on Baghdadi.
In an unusual Sunday morning press conference describing Baghdadi’s demise, US President Donald Trump seemed to downplay the crucial role that the SDF had played.
“I want to thank the nations of Russia, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq,” Trump said, “and I also want to thank the Syrian Kurds for certain support they were able to give us.”
Without the informant, discovered and cultivated by the SDF, the raid could not have happened!
For many Kurds, NBC News reported, “the brief acknowledgment – coming after Trump thanked Russia and other nations – did not sufficiently recognize their role in the raid, as well as the 11,000 men and women the Kurdish-led forces have lost in the almost five-year fight against ISIS.”
Indeed, although the SDF was essential to the success of the raid, Trump had turned his back on the Kurdish-led organization shortly before: after his Oct. 6 phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, followed by his decision to withdraw US forces from most of eastern Syria.
Trump has come under a great deal of criticism for that decision. Possibly, if he had acknowledged the true role of the Syrian Kurds in Baghdadi’s demise, such an acknowledgment would have further fed criticism of the abrupt and hasty withdrawal from Syria that he ordered.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany