The compound of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was located in Idlib Province, some 4 miles from the Turkish border in Syria. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense/Website
Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Less than a week after Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during a secretive U.S. forces raid on a compound in northwestern Syria, the general who conducted the mission said despite his death, the terrorist organization is still dangerous.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the commander of the assault on the compound where Baghdadi was holed up in Idlib Province, some 4 miles from the Turkish border, said he expects IS to be impacted by the death of its leader, as it will take time to re-establish the top of the organization, but it hasn't been destroyed.
"They will be dangerous," he said during a press briefing Wednesday. "We suspect they will try some form of retribution attack, and we're postured and prepared for that."
As IS is first and foremost an ideology, long term success against the group does not include its complete annihilation but having the organization contained by local authorities without the possibility of them attacking the United States, he said.
"We don't see a bloodless future, because, unfortunately, this ideology is going to be out there, but 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.
McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, spoke Wednesday during a press briefing on the mission that Trump had announced the results of on Sunday.
During the briefing, McKenzie said he launched the mission from Tampa, Fla., at 9 a.m. Eastern time, Saturday, with the intention to either capture or kill Baghdadi with approval of the president, who monitored the assault from the White House.
"The general outline of the mission was a helicopter assault by special operations forces that were pre-stage in Syria, launched against an isolated compound in northwest Syria where Baghdadi was suspected to be hiding," he said. "... While that concept sounds simple enough, I can assure you that the plan was significantly more complex than that and designed to avoid detection by [IS] and others prior to and during execution, to avoid civilian causalities."
Baghdadi, he said, was hiding in Idlib Province where the United States hasn't traditionally operated to avoid "the intense pressure" that has been put on the terrorist organization in Syria, he said.
On approach to the compound, two individuals not associated with IS opened fired on the aircraft, which responded with two airstrikes, killing them instantly, video of the encounter showed.
Once securing the compound, U.S. forces searched and then released civilians at the scene, which included 11 children. A total of five IS fighters -- four women and one man -- were killed during the assault when they did not respond to orders in Arabic to surrender and they "continued to threaten the force," he said.
"After this engagement, and once established inside the compound, U.S. forces discovered Baghdadi hiding in a tunnel," he said. "When capture at the hands of U.S. forces was imminent, Bagdadi detonated a bomb he wore, killing himself and two young children that were with him."
It was originally reported that he was with three children but following debriefing, the number was corrected to two children under the ages of 12, he said.
A total of six IS fighters, including Baghdadi, were killed on the compound and his remains, after confirmation through DNA analysis, were buried at sea. The compound was then destroyed by standoff munitions to prevent it from becoming a shrine or a place otherwise memorable.
"It looks pretty much like a parking lot with large potholes right now," he said.
Asked if Baghdadi whimpered and cried during his final moments as Trump had described on Sunday, McKenzie neither confirmed nor denied the detail, only stating, " I can tell you this: he crawled into a hole with two small children and blew himself up while his people stayed on the ground. So, you can deduce what kind of person it is based on that activity."
He said the mission was "exquisitely planned and executed" and demonstrated the United States' global reach and committed to defeating IS.
Two men, documents and electronics on the compound were extracted, he said, adding between 10 and 15 people were killed during the mission. No U.S. personnel were injured except for a military working dog, who became injured when exposed to live electrical cables in the tunnel after Baghdadi detonated his vest.
"The mission was a difficult, complex and precise raid that was executed with the hight level of professionalism and in the finest tradition of the U.S. military," he said.