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Trump Announces ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi Is Dead; U.S. Military Captures ISIS Leader in Surprise Location. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired October 27, 2019 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:00:10] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello everyone, thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin with breaking news. The leader of ISIS, one of the most feared and brutal terror organizations in the world is dead. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a U.S. military raid, Saturday in northwestern Syria. U.S. Special Forces using the cover of night to raid his compound near the border with Turkey. President Trump confirming details of the operation this morning. The White House released this photo showing the intense moments inside the Situation Room during the raid.

Al-Baghdadi's death is being described as a devastating blow to ISIS, and it marks the end of years' long manhunt to find one of the most wanted terror leaders in the world. This morning, President Trump went into explicit detail about al-Baghdadi's final moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way. The compound had been cleared by this time with people either surrendering or being shot and killed. He was a sick and depraved man and now he's gone. Baghdadi was vicious and violent and he died in a vicious and violent way as a coward running and crying. This raid was impeccable and could only have taken place with the acknowledgment and help of certain other nations and people. I want to thank the nations of Russia, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. And I also want to thank the Syrian Kurds for certain support they were able to give us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: We have team coverage around the world covering every aspect of this monumental moment in the fight against ISIS. Let's start with CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, what do we know about the logistics of this raid?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president laid out a good deal of detail that was really quite extraordinary. What we know is, it began essentially with helicopters and U.S. Special Forces coming in by helicopter, perhaps as many as a hundred. There were surveillance aircrafts certainly overhead keeping watch. The entire mission lasting about two hours which really is extraordinary. That's a long time for these kinds of troops to be on the ground as the president said.

They called out for Baghdadi to surrender. He did not, apparently running into a tunnel with three children and then detonating a suicide vest killing himself and those three children. Troops on the ground were able to make a rapid identification last night that then allowed the president to come out and verify this publicly to the world.

You know, these raids that are staged by Delta Force, SEAL teams, Air Force Special Operations, they're really quite extraordinary. They're very dangerous but these troops are very highly skilled and practiced at this. And what they do is they use secrecy, stealth, night cover. They come in very quietly, very secretly and they blast with overwhelming violent force before people can scatter and get away. They are very practiced over the last 18 years at doing this kind of work and thankfully no U.S. troops suffered anything but two head minor injuries. Everybody else all just fine.

Fred?

WHITFIELD: And the president underscoring there was a K9 injury. Still a very important part and member of the team, Barbara.

Let me also bring into the equation now, CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He's on the ground in Erbil, Iraq. Nick, we're learning despite Kurds providing Intel this raid was still delayed by about a month. What can you tell us about that? And what has been the reaction in the region?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a claim from the Syrian Kurds who say this was a joint operation intelligence wise. And they supplied vital information. Now, they claim that it was a five-month operation in the planning and that it was delayed a month because of the Turkish in incursion against Syrian Kurds kind of knocking the time table to one side.

Now that does to some degree tally with what President Donald Trump was, in fact, saying and that he said listen, we started looking at this about two, three weeks ago. He was asked, you know, didn't it have an impact on the Turkish incursion or your decision to talk to Turkey and he seemed comfortable (INAUDIBLE) the two existed somewhat in parallel and one didn't impact the other. But you have to remember that particular Turkish incursion against the Syrian Kurds not only attacked America's key ally in the fight against ISIS who've done most of the ground fighting, it also went so fast that U.S. forces, many of them fighting against ISIS, involved in raids or intelligence gathering for raids like this had to evacuate their headquarters at fast pace and pull back.

[13:05:07] So, it is extraordinary frankly that the U.S. military were able to pull this off while they were busy to some degree withdrawing from key positions too.

The reaction in the region, well, Turkey has said this is a good sign of what happens when people work together. The Syrian Kurds sort of trying to (INAUDIBLE) to suggest they supplied vital intelligence for that. And that, of course, puts the U.S. alliance in extraordinary light because essentially the Syrian Kurds who Turkey say they're terrorists are in fact the ones who may have allowed the United States to find the world's most wanted man very close to the border of Turkey.

That's for future discussions but the key moment I think there is one certain relief in the Middle East that this man is gone. But in trepidation concern about what may come in his wake.

WHITFIELD: And Barbara, to you now, a senior defense official telling CNN that operations like this do require, you know, a presence on the ground to develop intelligence networks. We heard from Nick who said, you know, the Syrian Kurds are saying they provide a lot of intelligence on the ground. But what more can you tell us about how -- you know, what kind of coordinated effort took place to share intelligence as a prelude to this?

STARR: Well, a lot of parties involved including the Iraqis, the Kurds, and the Turks are all claiming some level of cooperation with the United States. Look, it's always better to have eyes and ears on the ground to watch how and where people are moving, who they meet with, have signals intelligence, scoop up and intercept telephone conversations, laptop communications, all of that so it is better. But U.S. troops now very much still according to the president in the mode of withdrawing even in the face of this. Have a listen to a little bit of what the president had to say about this point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We don't want to keep soldiers between Syria and Turkey for the next 200 years. They've been fighting for hundreds of years. We're out. But we are leaving soldiers to secure the oil. Now we may have to fight for the oil. That's OK.

Maybe somebody else wants the oil in which they'll have a hell of a fight. I want our soldiers home or fighting something that's meaningful. I'll tell you who loves us being there, Russia and China.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: But listen to what the president said, we, the United States, U.S. troops, might have to fight for the oil. There is a big question mark out here today what steps will Russia take in Syria next. Will it try and reach accommodation of peace agreement? Russia, Syria, and Turkey. And then where does that actually leave the United States as a potential side player inside Syria?

Fred?

WHITFIELD: And then, Nick, you mentioned that the Syrian Kurds have said that they played a vital role in all this but then you listen to the president earlier and he thanked a litany of countries but it was Russia that was first. Turkey, Syria, and Iraq for their support in the operation. And really, you know, he also said -- he also wants to acknowledge the Syrian Kurds. I mean, almost like an afterthought. How is that being received? WALSH: Well, it's startling isn't it really? I mean, the list of countries he immediately leaped to, to some degree their leaders are pretty authoritarian and the Syrian Kurds who've lost over 10,000 sons and daughters in this fight kind of got a bit of afterthought really. Donald Trump has always been ambivalent about their role here even though their commander Mazloum Abdi did talk about the five-month-long operation which led to this final moment here.

There were lots of moments during Donald Trump's speech which jarred to some degree. It was extraordinary how the communications were managed. There's a long trail ahead of him actually finally releasing details, explicit details. Some of which sort of echoed and frankly the crudeness you would often expect of him maybe from ISIS about the whimpering, screaming Baghdadi pinned down in a sealed tunnel killing himself and his three children.

It was sort of disturbing to hear to some degree and also I think a moment possibly too whereby it felt like Donald Trump to some degree in awe of watching this apparatus unfold around him. Saying himself that it looks like he was watching a movie. He got to watch a lot of it. Interesting though to see what further details we will learn and specifically to exactly which group was holding or assisting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi holed up in that northwestern part of Syria, an Al-Qaeda stronghold, an unlikely place for him to be but still one where he seemed to find shelter.

Back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, Nick Paton Walsh and Barbara Starr, thank you so much. We'll check back with you.

So, during the statement by the president, he gave several critical details about the raid in Syria. Let's turn now to CNN's Jeremy Diamond live at the White House for us. So Jeremy, President Trump, you know, gave a play-by-play of the operation. You heard our Nick Paton Walsh, you know, talked about how some grimaced at such detail, particularly of the potential -- or his view the suffering of al- Baghdadi in those final moments.

[13:10:08] Tell us more about the approach the White House took and why and what kind of feedback it's getting.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. Well, we know that the president huddled yesterday in the Situation Room with some of his top national security and defense advisers to watch this raid unfold. And he did describe it as like watching a movie. And like that movie that the president said he watched as this raid unfolded he did try and bring the American people into that and try and describe this in a vivid and sometimes frankly explicit detail including the moment when he says Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ignited his suicide vest and killed himself as U.S. forces were approaching.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He ignited his vest killing himself and the three children. His body was mutilated by the blast. The tunnel had caved in on it in addition but test results gave a certain immediate and totally positive identification. It was him. The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: And the president also described other details, operational details about this raid, like the amount of time that it took these troops to fly from the base where they were to get to this compound where Baghdadi was hidden. And some of those details have raised concerns among national security officials that perhaps the president was sharing too much.

But one other thing that he did was try and characterized al-Baghdadi as a coward. Listen to how he talks about him here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We had eight helicopters and we had many other ships and planes. It was a large group -- and, again, this is a large group heading over very, very strong firepower areas where that was decision one -- will they make it? And they made it. But they took fire, but they made it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: And so the president obviously describing al-Baghdadi as a coward, as whimpering. All of these comments that h used during (INAUDIBLE) comes back to something he said in 2016, Fredricka when he said we shouldn't call terrorist masterminds, we should instead refer to them as losers. And that was certainly something that the president tries do today as he talks about the leader of ISIS who is now deceased.

Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much at the White House.

All right, still ahead, the U.S. military's manhunt for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ends in that surprise location. So How did that impact the military operation on the ground? CNN's special coverage of this breaking news continues next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:16:36] WHITFIELD: All right, we continue to follow the breaking news. President Trump confirming today that one of the most wanted terrorists in the world is dead. This morning, the president announced ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed during a raid by U.S. Special Forces in northwest Syria overnight.

CNN's Sam Kiley is live for us on the Turkish-Syrian border. So, Sam, Baghdadi has been the subject of an international manhunt for years now. What do we know about the location in Syria where he was found and ultimately killed?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, I think the main thing to note about this location is that it's where you would be very unlikely to be looking for al-Baghdadi. It is an area dominated by the Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria which has had a war in the past against the so-called Islamic state which split away from it back in 2013 and 2014. So he was not hiding among friends, at least not on the surface. It's also an area where Turkish forces have had a degree of influence as part of another deal with the Assad regime to try to create a demilitarized zone. And again, a very difficult area for him to get to.

Now the Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces that worked alongside the United States for so long fighting ISIS said back in March they believed he was in Idlib province. He's certainly been there according to Donald Trump for at least the last two weeks since that was the period in which the president said the whole operation was being planned. But he was not in an area where he would naturally be befriended unless, and this is a key element of what Donald Trump said, he was trying to rebuild or reconstruct some kind of an -- a series of alliances with fellow travelers ideologically. Whilst they detested each other on many levels, Al-Qaeda and ISIS could be put together to resurge, it was suggested by the president.

WHITFIELD: And what is said of -- I mean, part of al-Baghdadi's history is he was once with Al-Qaeda. And while he may have, you know, gone off and help create ISIS, perhaps he never really left his, you know, friends and allies in Al-Qaeda and the network.

KILEY: Yes, absolutely. There wasn't a great deal of ideological difference between the two. The difference really for Al-Qaeda was that the methods used by Baghdadi both inside Iraq in his previous incarnation and especially during his period in which he tried to establish successfully a so-called caliphate was the ultra-violence that he used. The really murderous intent. That was distasteful even to Al-Qaeda.

WHITFIELD: Sam Kiley, thank you so much.

All right, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CNN today that the president was briefed on al-Baghdadi, this raid, and the options this past week and gave the green light for the operation. Esper says the objective was to actually capture the terrorist alive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So CNN is reporting that it appears Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest during the raid. Did that happen and did he take his own life?

MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Yes, that's the report we have on the ground from the commander that we tried to call him out and asked him to surrender himself. He refused. He went down into a sub-terrain area and in the process of trying to get him out, he detonated a suicide vest we believe and killed himself.

TAPPER: So he killed himself?

ESPER: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: With me now, Peter Bergen, a CNN national security analyst and author of the book "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden- from 9/11 to Abbottabad."

[13:20:05] And Samantha Vinograd is a former senior adviser on the National Security Council under President Obama and a CNN national security analyst. Also joining us, Max Boot, a senior fellow on the Council for Foreign Relations and a CNN global affairs analyst. Good to see all of you.

All right, so Peter, let me begin with you. Esper says the goal was to capture Baghdadi alive and only kill him if he refused to surrender. So, of course, we've learned, you know, now he had a suicide vest on, detonated it himself. Is he more valuable to that network or, you know, the ideology of ISIS dead than alive?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, I don't really know but I take what Esper said at face value in the sense that, you know, no American soldier is going to go in and essentially assassinate someone if -- in this kind of circumstance. Even in the bin Laden operation. There was a whole set of plans for the eventuality that bin Laden was actually captured and he would have been taken to an airbase in Afghanistan and interrogated there.

So obviously, you know, a live person is more useful from an interrogation standpoint. But the idea that Baghdadi would be taken alive I think, yes, it was kind of implausible and it didn't happen.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And, of course, it makes sense why they would want him alive. But, you know, among followers he's now kind of a martyr.

So Samantha, Defense Secretary Esper says, you know, Baghdadi's death is a, quote, devastating blow to ISIS. Do you agree with that?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Fred, just to your point that Baghdadi is a martyr, I think that's what President Trump was trying to get at today when he used quite disparaging language about Baghdadi and spoke about Baghdadi really fleeing and killing children as part of the end of this operation. One thing I will note is that President Trump said during his press conference that there was information taken from the site. That could prove extraordinarily valuable as part --

WHITFIELD: You mean like the DNA information to match --

VINOGRAD: No. I believe President Trump referenced that were files or other kinds of information that were physically removed from the site that -- as well as other targets that were removed from the compound as well which could prove useful as far as our ongoing counterterrorism operations against ISIS. But, you know, Fred, it really strikes me that President Trump's comments today really undercut his own narrative when it comes to combating ISIS and their presence in Syria. He said that U.S. forces were in the lead and conducted this operation whereas a few days ago he said that we could hand off these critical missions to other countries. So while this was a major accomplishment from a counterterrorism perspective, it really does undercut the president's narrative to date with respect to Syria.

WHITFIELD: And so, are you doubting, you know, Samantha, that the U.S. took the lead on that? I mean --

VINOGRAD: No. No. Not at all.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right. Just that it is counter to what the president had said days ago in terms of justifying the U.S. troop pullout.

VINOGRAD: And it speaks to the importance of the United States staying in the lead.

WHITFIELD: OK. OK. And then there was a Kurdish defense forces leader who had tweeted out saying for five months, you know, there have been joint Intel operations on the ground, accurate monitoring until we achieved the joint operation to kill Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi. But, you know, the president did give credit to, you know, Russia, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. It was kind of an aside, you know, Max, that the Syrian Kurds were part of this operation.

So, the president, you know, says this is big. This is bigger than, you know, the killing of anybody else and that this indeed, you know, strangles the caliphate. It's detrimental to ISIS. Take a listen to what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Baghdadi has been on the run for many years long before I took office. But in my direction as commander-in-chief of the United States, we obliterated his caliphate 100 percent in March of this year. Today's events are another reminder that we will continue to pursue the remaining ISIS terrorists to their brutal end. That also goes for other terrorist organizations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, Max, how do you interpret this messaging? How does the president's decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria impact his overall goal, you know, to pursue the remaining ISIS terrorists as he just said?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It doesn't make any sense, Fredricka. And, you know, obviously, this is a good day for justice. We can all be happy that Baghdadi is dead. He was an evil man. But we should not exaggerate the operational significance of this.

We have too many examples in the history of terrorist leaders being killed and their organizations continuing. I mean, let's recall that in 2016, a U.S. drone strike killed Mullah Mansoor, the head of the Taliban and the Taliban is as strong as ever. And more to the point, in 2006, U.S. forces killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who was then the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. And that didn't really do anything to improve the situation in Iraq, and eventually, it cleared the way for Baghdadi to rise as the head of this organization which became relabeled as the Islamic state.

[13:25:15] And so my concern is that we may be seeing a resurgence of Islamic. They, in fact, the U.S. intelligence community has been already warning of that that they have about 18,000 fighters still left in Iraq and Syria, they've been restaging more terrorist attacks. And now the way that we managed to defeat the caliphate was through this U.S./Kurdish alliance and now that's dead because President Trump has I think very foolishly pulled U.S. troops out of most of Syria and abandoned the Kurds. And that's the alliance that made it possible to defeat the caliphate and made it possible to now kill Baghdadi. And now, you know, Trump is disbanding that alliance just at a moment when there's an opportunity for an ISIS resurgence despite the death of its leader.

WHITFIELD: And real quick Peter while --I mean, everyone except for al-Baghdadi's supporters, you know, are celebrating his death. Is that your feeling that this might ignite a resurgence or do you even worry about the lieutenants or deputies, you know, who are prepared just in case he is erased from the equation?

BERGEN: I mean, I don't really disagree that anything Max said. But I will note that the death of bin Laden didn't actually produce much reaction from jihadi terrorist organizations. A dead leader is, you know, at the end of the day is dead.

WHITFIELD: All right. Peter Bergen, Samantha Vinograd, and Max Boot, thank you so much.

All right, still ahead, the president expresses a specific political calculation when striking down the ISIS leader. Why the president decided not to involve key members of Congress? CNN's special coverage of this breaking news, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:30:57] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: All right, back now with more in today's historical news, ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi, one of the world's most wanted terrorist is now dead. President Trump delivered news of Baghdadi's death in graphic detail this morning from the White House calling the mission a huge success for the country and for him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last night was a great night for the United States and for the world. A brutal killer, one who has caused so much hardship and death has violently been eliminated. This is the biggest terrorist. This is the worst ever.

Osama bin Laden was very big brother. Osama bin Laden, became big with the World Trade Center. This is a man who built a whole, as he would like to call it, a country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Some political fall out already being felt as key Democrats say they knew nothing of the raid and when asked why they weren't notified, Trump had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We notified some. Others are now being notified now as I speak. We were going to notify them last night but we decided not to do that because Washington leaks like I've never seen before there's nothing -- there's no country in the world that leaks like we do. And Washington is a leaking machine. And I told my people we will not notify them until the -- our great people are out. Not just in, but out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, joining me now to discuss, CNN Senior Politics, Zachary Wolf. All right, Zach, good to see you. So what message do you think the President is sending by not alerting Democratic leadership about the raid, not before and not immediately after, not even the House Speaker Pelosi knew about it? And apparently U.S. Senate Minority Chuck Schumer said he found out about it on T.V.

ZACHARY WOLF, CNN SENIOR POLITICS WRITER: Well, I think, he's sending a message to the country and to Democrats in particularly that they're not involved in the running of the country right now which is kind of expressly against the whole idea which is that on certain things, military action in particular, that, you know, you're supposed to leave partisanship behind.

If he's informing Republican members of Congress but not Democrats that he's going to do military action, that's kind of a departure certainly from, you know, long-standing precedent and potentially from the spirit of the way the laws are set up.

WHITFIELD: And, you know, overall, it appeared as though Trump was starting to lose some GOP support. There were, you know, indicators of some real cracks, you know, in his support, particularly over the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, including from Republican, Senator Lindsey Graham. But then Graham at the White House today had this to say about Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I understand what the President wants to do. He wants to reduce our footprint and lower our costs and he is right to want to do that. But I'm very encouraged by what I see in Syria, maybe a new strategy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: He even said this might be an opportunity for a lot of his critics to kind of change their view and support of the President. Mitt Romney was among those who has been, you know, very critical. But then he tweeted out, you know, celebrating essentially the decisions made. What does this mean now for what were evidence of cracks in Republican GOP support for him?

WOLF: Well, you know, I think you heard this a lot with your last panel where they were talking about distance or putting some, you know, distance between the accomplishment of getting rid of Baghdadi and the real problem of his longer term Syria strategy which is something Lindsey Graham seems to trying be leading him, you know, leading Trump back to having more U.S. involvement in Syria. But it's not clear to me at all that this success is going to equal that.

So, you know, these things ultimately get very complicated where you have Republicans criticizing the President over Syria. You have Democrats trying to impeach him for his involvement in Ukraine. And is this going to change the subject on all that? I don't know.

[13:35:05] WHITFIELD: Yeah, OK, big question mark. So just to paraphrase of what Lindsey Graham had said, you know, he said this is a game changer in killing of al-Baghdadi, this is a moment when the worst critics should say well done, Mr. President. Zach Wolf, thank you so much.

WOLF: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: We'll have much more on this breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right welcome back. We continue to follow breaking news. Now, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. President Trump confirming al-Baghdadi's death from the White House this morning saying he, "Died like a coward" by detonating his own suicide vest.

Here is CNN's Nick Paton Walsh with more on the man who was considered by many to be the most wanted terrorist in the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): His face in public only once and even then in the presence of a small number. This is the moment at Friday prayers in a freshly conquered Mosul Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, creator of one of the most successful and inhumane terrorist networks in history chose to reveal himself. Yet before the infamy of this pulpit, he spent a decade rising quietly.

A PhD student said to like football these Pentagon records show his capture by U.S. forces in 2004 near Fallujah and hailed for years as a civilian internee at U.S. Camp Bucca. It was there when expert knew him that he turned.

[13:40:06] HISHAM HASHIMI, ISIS EXPERT (through translator): Al- Baghdadi was not cruel or radical at the time. He just wanted to fight the Americans. However, he linked toward sectarian violence in Bucca, a school where he met foreigners and some Iraqis who filled his head with such ideas.

(voice over): The officer in charge of the camp remembers the last words of the man they released.

KENNETH KING, FORMER COMMANDER AT CAMP BUCCA: As he was leaving, and he knew my unit was from Long Island, New York, he looked over toward us and as he left, he said, "See you guys in New York."

Here we are a few years hence and I look at those words in a little bit of a different context right now.

(voice-over): Then there is silence, a long stretch in the shadows of Iraq's savage civil war before hitting the al-Qaeda sanctions list in June 2011. Here as Abu Du'a, he led the Islamic State of Iraq, the al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq, whose previous leader, Zarqawi, the U.S. killed.

But as the U.S. left Iraq and the Arab Spring fell apart, the increasingly sectarian violence of Syria's civil war became a magnet for the bloodthirsty. Baghdadi, silently behind an ISIS brutality so extreme even al-Qaeda disowned it, leading the extremist groups to split in February of 2014. And months later, the group, to show its fighters breaking the borders of Syria and Iraq, declaring their caliphate.

With Baghdadi at its helm, claiming direct lineage from the Prophet Muhammad, the new caliph. This was Baghdadi's moment, the pinnacle of years of calculation and ISIS rose fast.

Then came the attack on and occupation of Mosul. The atrocities against the Yazidis in Mt. Sinjar, the beheadings of Western hostages, the besieging of Kobani, horrors marked by an obscene worship of violence.

(on camera): In all these, Baghdadi is invisible, yet doubtless the key decision-maker. But one of the more terrifying things about the ISIS he helped create is not its obsession with gruesomely videoing acts of murder but, instead, it's harnessing of social media to create a global franchise amongst people it had often never met. In Libya, Afghanistan, Paris, Brussels, atrocities committed by people who were attracted to ISIS' brand to commit atrocities and even die for it.

(voice-over): But in November 2014, rumors of an airstrike hitting him and then, within a week, a recording of his florid speech.

ABU BAKER AL-BAGHDADI, ISIS LEADER: (Speaking in Foreign Language).

WALSH (voice-over): It became a pattern. No public appearances mixed with randomly released audio statements. U.S. officials told CNN that they believe he was injured in May 2017 and had to take five months away from his leadership duties as a result.

Yet from that moment onwards, what was left of ISIS' so-called caliphate collapsed in on itself. Mosul, freed from their grip in July, Raqqa that October. ISIS reduced to a tiny slip of land on the Iraqi and Syrian border and an idea, infectious, hateful, still capable of inspiring barbaric insanity, yet now without its figurehead, a man willing to lead his followers to death but only from the shadows.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

We have more in our breaking news straight ahead. But first when we come back, in this country, nearly 200,000 are under mandatory evacuation orders in California as winds up to 80 miles an hour threaten to push devastating wildfires into new areas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:47:28] WHITFIELD: All right welcome back. And right now, look at these extraordinary images here. Winds pushing upwards of 80 miles an hour are intensifying fire conditions in Northern California. And you see those fires. They seem like they are just very virulent.

And just in, this is from Vallejo, California, north of San Francisco. And you can see the flames creeping towards homes and businesses on the water front. In some cases it looks like it's actually engulfed some of the properties there. And you see, how close and danger these firefighters are. Nearly 200,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders as these firefighters try to beat back these flames.

CNN correspondent, Lucy Kafanov joining us right now. This is incredibly perilous and very dangerous, Lucy.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And terrifying, Fredricka. It's been a tough morning for residents in Sonoma County in Northern California. A lot of folks evacuated. We actually got woken up at 5:30 a.m. local time in Santa Rosa because of a mandatory evacuation. Folks were going in knocking on door to door trying to get people out.

We drove up north to an area between Geyserville where the flames had been burning high and another part of California. And I want to show you the destruction that we found. Take a look.

I want to show you a little of what the fire crews have been dealing with this morning. You see the bulldozer here. They've been coming to try to dig containment lines. Up on the hill, a structure is on fire. This is one of many here in Sonoma County in Northern California that have been burning since those winds picked up at around 4:00 a.m. local time.

We're going to let this bulldozer get past us. It's a critical way of helping to fight the fires. They are clearing the roadways, moving aside the brush so that cars and rescue crews can get through. And I want to show you what we're looking at over here.

This was somebody's home. It was too late for crews to save this one. You can see there's the remains of a fireplace that's basically the only thing that's left standing. This might have been a kitchen, perhaps a laundry room. Some sort of laundry machine, a washing machine there. But all of this turned to rubble and dust.

And Fredricka, it's a good reminder that it's not just human beings affected by these fires. The cattle behind me are still on the land, most of the structures here burned down, but the animals are still here. We got permission to walk around this farm area, to film around here, but the folks lost absolutely everything, just one of the many heartbreaking stories in Northern California this morning, Fredricka.

[13:50:08] WHITFIELD: Oh my gosh, that is really heartbreaking and so dangerous for so many including the animals there, the livestock. All right, hopefully they will make it through. Lucy Kafanov, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

All right, still ahead, a homecoming party in Texas ends in bloodshed with at least two people killed and over a dozen injured. There is an active manhunt underway. We're live on the scene, next.

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WHITFIELD: A manhunt is underway for a gunman who police say opened fire at a homecoming party in Greenville, Texas last night. Police say two people are dead and at least 14 others hurt. The shooting happened near Texas A&M University Commerce.

Investigators say, the party was organized by a group called Good Fellows, some of whom were students. But the event was not sanctioned by the university. CNN's Ed Lavandera is following developments in Greenville.

[13:54:59] ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fredricka. Well, here, investigators continue to work through the scene here. Investigators say it was just after midnight when a gunman entered the back of this building here and started opening fire with a handgun.

As you mentioned, two people were killed, at least 14 others wounded or injured in the ensuing chaos as more than 750 people scrambled to get out of this building and started fleeing from this scene. Ironically enough, there were two local sheriff's deputies who had been called out to the area about a half hour earlier because of the number of cars that were parked along around this area, and there was a traffic issue -- traffic concern and parking concern. And that's when the gunfire erupted.

And in that chaos, despite those officers being here at the scene, the gunman was able to get away in those chaotic moments after the shooting erupted. So investigators are still inside. No known motive for what might have happened here. But the sheriff says the predominant theory at this point is that the gunman came here targeting one person specifically, and then started shooting randomly at other people there in the crowd. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

Still ahead, the leader of ISIS killed, U.S. Special Forces using the cover of night to raid his compound, and President Trump detailing the graphic nature of the operation. CNN's special coverage of this breaking news continues next.

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[14:00:07] WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday.