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U.S. Targets ISIS In Syria


He was the most wanted terrorist in the Middle East. Now ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may have been killed in a U.S. military operation in northern Syria - that, according to President Trump. We now have NPR international correspondent Jane Arraf with us on the line from Iraq.

Good morning, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Good morning, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A lot of information in this news conference - just recap briefly what we learned.

ARRAF: Well, this was a U.S. raid, and it targeted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was, according to President Trump, in a tunnel, apparently with some of his children. That tunnel was hit by airstrikes, but it also appears that he has - sorry. It also appeared that Abu al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest that he was wearing, killing himself and some of the people with him. That's what President Trump said in his address, which then went on to talk about the cooperation he had received from other countries. And obviously, he took quite a lot of credit for getting the guy that they have been searching for for the past five years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. What's been the response there to this news in the region? ISIS has left such a mark.

ARRAF: It has, absolutely. And it is obviously a victory. He's been one of the most wanted men in recent history here. He was someone who engineered the most gruesome organization, the most effective organization that's been seen here in recent history. At one point, it had one-third of Iraq and a large part of Syria. But there's no illusion that ISIS is gone just 'cause al-Baghdadi is dead. We spoke to an Iraqi army officer - sorry - a SWAT team member in Mosul, where Baghdadi declared his caliphate. And he said, you know, we're still fighting. We're fighting these sleeper cells. So jubilation, congratulations over the fact that he's dead, but no illusions that this means that ISIS is gone.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the things that I found striking was that the president seemed to give more credit to Russia than to the Syrian Kurds on the ground there who have been coordinating with the U.S. on the fight against ISIS for years now.

ARRAF: That was really interesting, wasn't it?


ARRAF: So in thank - yeah. In thanking the countries, Russia was first, and then it was Turkey - Russia obviously very much on his mind. And then eventually, he got to the Syrian Kurds who, indeed, seem to have played quite a large role in this - not militarily, as he pointed out, but providing the intelligence because intelligence is such a large part of this. They've been chasing Baghdadi for years, as have the Iraqis. But yes, the credit, according to the president, went to Russia, Turkey and even Syria.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And one of the things that he did mention is that he will not reconsider pulling American troops out of northern Syria. For the Kurds there, how is this going to be received?

ARRAF: It's not going to be received well. I spoke with some Iraqi Kurds here in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, and they were saying that they believe this means the U.S. will be more firm - or Trump. Let's be specific. they believe this means that President Trump will be more firm in his belief that it's OK now; we can pull out of those - we can pull out those troops. In fact, there's some fear here that that would accelerate the move.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because sort of mission accomplished means we don't have to be there anymore because the original purpose of those troops being there was to combat ISIS.

ARRAF: It definitely was to combat ISIS. But clearly, ISIS is not dead. Otherwise, you would not have had President Trump saying he will leave some forces there to safeguard Syrian oil from ISIS. And the other astonishing thing he said - that maybe the U.S. should get some of that oil - that does not ring well here, as you can imagine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I can imagine. That's NPR's international correspondent Jane Arraf.

Thank you so much.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.