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State of the Union
President Trump Announces ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi Is Dead. Aired 9-10a
Aired October 27, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.
Welcome to a special two-hour edition of STATE OF THE UNION. We have a lot of news to get to this morning.
Right now, we're waiting for President Trump to make an announcement just minutes away, as we are getting some major news out of the Middle East.
ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to have been killed during a raid conducted by the U.S. military. That's according to a senior U.S. defense official and a source familiar with the operation. Both of them said Baghdadi appears to have detonated a suicide vest during that raid.
The apparent death of the leader of ISIS comes after weeks of criticism of President Trump over his decision to pull U.S. service members from Syria's northern border.
And, at any moment, we're going to hear directly from President Trump, who previewed his remarks by tweeting overnight that -- quote -- "Something very big has happened" -- unquote.
We are covering this apparent death of the terrorist leader of ISIS from every angle, from the Pentagon, to the White House, to the Middle East.
Let's begin with CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne.
Ryan, what are you learning about this operation and how it came about?
RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Jake, we're being told that this was a very complex operation that came about from intelligence obtained and collected by the CIA.
And that intelligence helped lead to a U.S. military raid led by Delta Force, we're being told, the elite Special Forces unit, going deep into Northwest Syria, which is really hostile territory. There are a lot of actors there, extremist groups. The Russian military has a presence.
The regime military has a presence, very far from where the U.S. military typically operates. So they had to have high confidence that Baghdadi was in fact at that location to green-light this raid, this very risky raid.
Now, during the raid, we're being told Baghdadi appears to have detonated a suicide vest, killing himself, and while -- when he encountered the U.S. forces. Now, it's possible that this was an attempt to evade capture. Often, the U.S. tries to capture high-value targets like this, but detonating that suicide vest.
And -- but U.S. forces on the ground immediately began efforts to identify whether in fact he was -- this was, in fact, the target they had sought U.S. officials telling us that they're highly confident that he was, in fact, killed in this operation.
TAPPER: All right, Ryan Browne, thanks so much.
Let's go now to Iraq, where we find senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh in Irbil, Iraq.
Nick, this is a big blow to ISIS.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely, yes.
I mean, this is a man who authored their ideology, was behind the way that they sort of piped down social media these brutal, gory images of violence, of suffering, of execution of Western hostages, of, at times, hundreds of even Iraqi army recruits.
He honed their skills of spreading around the world the idea that anybody, frankly, with a twisted view of the world could possibly join ISIS' jihad. And possibly, with his death, we find the end of a chapter here.
But no mistake too, though, Jake, something does still continue. We don't quite know what it is, but we know that ISIS was fractured as an ideology, as a franchise. And it's unlikely that simply one man's death will end it finally.
It stretched from the Philippines, through Russia, through Afghanistan, through Libya, to the streets of European capitals. But it's an interesting set of questions now that most likely the commander in chief will end up answering about how this raid came about.
It was literally miles away from the southern Turkish border, an area where many, I think, did not imagine Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, would end up looking for shelter. This is where al Qaeda, ISIS' main rival, have their biggest stronghold, a place, frankly, where Western intelligence chiefs are deeply concerned about the next wave of jihad, potentially.
But the question will be asked, who led them to that particular location? We understand from U.S. officials that Turkey was told that this raid was happening quite possibly while it was already under way, the question being, what piece of information, what piece of intelligence brought them to that spot?
Now, the Syrian Kurds, who have been the U.S.' main ally in the fight against ISIS on the ground, losing over 10,000 sons and daughters, but abandoned, frankly, in the past weeks by the shift in Trump policy over Syria, their chief has said that this is a result of intelligence gleaned over a five-month period that led to this operation.
Now, we will have to wait and see if Donald Trump confirms the role of the Syrian Kurds that, frankly, he had abandoned in the last month or so, when he gives details during this particular announcement.
But I have to say it is a startling policy victory for his military here. They have been dealing in the past few weeks with the withdrawal, rapidly, under appalling circumstances from major parts of Syria to a smaller area now.
But while dealing with that extraordinary series of tactical redeployments inside Syria and Iraq, they pulled off, frankly, the most extraordinary feat of the last decade or so in terms of hunting down the world's most wanted man, an extraordinary moment, certainly, and one in which President Trump will have to confront the fact that the very intelligence community he has often being pretty scathing of have led him to this, one of the most substantial and undisputable goals of his first term -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Iraq.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond is now live for us at the White House, where President Trump is expected to speak at any moment.
And, Jeremy, the president has been criticized by even fellow Republicans over his Syria withdrawal order. And Pentagon officials are underlining that this particular mission could not have happened without U.S. troops in Syria.
What are you expecting to hear from President Trump?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, you're right.
After facing weeks of criticism over his decisions in Syria, this will be a moment for the president to mark a significant foreign policy victory and perhaps try and frame this as a legacy-defining moment.
We have already seen the president tout the defeat of ISIS' so-called caliphate in Iraq and in Syria. And now this will also be an opportunity for the president to tout the effective decapitation of this ISIS organization with the death that we are now learning of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The president, of course, keyed this up last night by tweeting that something very big had just happened. And, of course, it is something big, because Baghdadi, of course, was the leader of this organization who inspired the attacks that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
But the question of course, Jake, is, of course, this does not mark the death of that ideology. And it does not mark the death of the thousands of ISIS fighters who still remain, some of them underground, in Syria and in -- in Syria in particular, Jake.
And so the president, as he does take this victory lap, we also expect him to continue to face questions about the future of that fight against ISIS, particularly amid this withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jeremy Diamond at the White House.
As we await President Trump any moment now -- and we will bring that to you live -- I am joined here in studio by three experts with deep knowledge of the U.S. fight against ISIS.
We have with us former Director of National Intelligence under President Obama James Clapper, former Congressman and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers, and former homeland security adviser to President Obama Lisa Monaco.
Thanks, one and all.
General Clapper, let me start with you.
Obviously, this is a big moment for U.S. forces, for President Trump, for the U.S., and for the -- anyone who hates terrorism.
What questions are you hoping President Trump will answer in his statement this morning?
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I'll be very interested, in -- to the extent that he can, whatever he says about -- obviously, for me, the contribution of the intelligence community that led to this.
It looks like this is kind of reminiscent of the textbook relationship between intelligence and special operations that took down Osama bin Laden, very reminiscent of that.
And, of course, it's -- it is quite significant, a huge symbolic meaning for taking out about Baghdadi, who has been a target for some time.
I think what's going to be interesting is, to the extent to which this negatively affects ISIS, or does it galvanize ISIS, the remnants of ISIS, which still survives as an ideology and has franchises in other places besides Syria.
TAPPER: And, Lisa, we're going to find out more about the president's role in authorizing this.
But take us inside the room. What is it like for a president when he is presented with options, we think. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is in this place. Here are some of the military options.
That's a tough decision for any president.
LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's a tough decision for any president, Jake. And presidents get paid to make the tough calls and the risky calls.
But, at bottom, this day is about the professionalism and the dedication of the men and women of the U.S. national security community.
So, inside the Situation Room -- and I, along with Jim Clapper, have been in that room many, many hours dealing with very dangerous operations like this one most assuredly was.
And what you're looking for here is to present the president with as much information as possible, what are the options, what are the potential risks, and putting that all on the table.
So, for instance, what are the potential risks to our forces in the region, to our embassies in the region for potential retaliation? What is the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security doing here at home to mitigate any potential retaliatory acts by followers, those who are inspired by ISIS?
Remember, of course, ISIS gained its notoriety both for becoming an army that literally took territory the size of Great Britain at one point and for planning and motivating attacks in Europe and other places, but, most importantly, I think, by having an ideology and spawning a social movement, and inspiring those to be radicalized on social media.
And that's what we have seen here at home in some of the attacks that the -- our colleague from CNN just mentioned.
So we want to be thinking very carefully about, what are those risks, what are the plans in place to mitigate those, and then present the president with the information also about the risks to our very brave men and women who are undertaking this operation.
TAPPER: And, Chairman Rogers, let me just ask you.
Abu Bakr -- I'm messing up his name -- I'm just going to say Baghdadi. Baghdad was not just the leader of ISIS. He founded ISIS.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He did.
TAPPER: So, I mean, his death is a very significant one, I would think, but does it end the ISIS ideology?
ROGERS: Oh, it won't -- it won't end the ideology, for sure.
And there are other branch offices that they established in Africa and other places that are gaining steam. And what we found, after even the Osama bin Laden raid and what we have learned in the last 18 years in fighting terrorism, is tempo is important.
TAPPER: Mm-hmm. ROGERS: You can't take out the leader and then decide you're going to
pack up and come home. That won't work. As a matter of fact, that will work against you.
So the next few months are equally important to this. And this was significant. It was important. The symbolism of this is huge. And he was a real on-the-ground battlefield leader and provided inspiration to his followers.
So, that part of -- removing that is going to have a big impact on them. But the next couple of months is also critically important. Can we maintain tempo? Can you go after other leadership of ISIS? Can you start to push them to a place where they cannot plan, operate, train, finance events, not only just in Syria, but in their -- in their satellite offices as well?
TAPPER: Very interesting point.
And so with the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, General Clapper, are you concerned? you expressed some concern that maybe this would galvanize ISIS. Do you think it's important, as Chairman Rogers just suggested, to keep up the tempo, for U.S. forces to stay in the region to make sure that this doesn't become a "Remember the Maine" kind of call for these terrorists?
CLAPPER: Yes, absolutely. I think Chairman Rogers is exactly right.
ISIS is more than just Baghdadi, as important as he was, somewhere in the neighborhood of what I have heard 14,000 to 18,000 fighters yet remaining, and, of course, the other -- the franchises or branches in other places, notably, Afghanistan, where, of course, we still have forces.
ISIS did anticipate losing leadership. And so they decentralized and groomed people to assume the role. Now, I don't know that they have anybody that would have the symbolic importance of Baghdadi.
But I don't think we can say, at this point, that we can stop worrying about ISIS.
TAPPER: And everybody here obviously is unanimous in saying that this is important, but we're just -- I just want to -- I don't want to take away from the moment here.
This is an important moment for the U.S., for U.S. special operators who risk everything to bring more safety and security to the United States.
The leader of the Kurdish military with which the United States is aligned, the SDF, just said that this operation began about five months ago.
What does that mean to you, Lisa? Does that mean gathering intelligence, maybe even putting a spy into the ISIS region or into the ISIS circle where -- where this operation, where this raid went down? [09:10:02]
MONACO: So, it could mean a host of things.
And it is a -- it underscores the importance of that partnership, right, the Kurdish military, those fighters who were really the pointy end of the spear for our fight against ISIS. We have been with them for now a number of years.
And that means fighting -- supporting their fight on the ground, developing intelligence, feeding that back to the U.S. intelligence community to develop operations like this one.
So it could mean a whole host of things. But it really does underscore the importance of that partnership, and just how vital it has been to be with them and to work by, with, and through that very brave fighting force.
TAPPER: And we're going to find out more about this and especially in terms of the difference between signals intelligence, which is basically surveillance, which we heard a lot about during the bin Laden raid -- or after the bin Laden raid -- and human intelligence, spies, informants.
And they're both very important in a mission like this, especially when you're going into an area of Syria where ISIS is not known to have a presence.
And this is an area that we don't normally operate. So the intelligence had to be obtained, at least on the ground, through partners and folks that we work with on the ground.
What was important about the Osama bin Laden raid, yes, it was signals intelligence, but the analytical corps of the intelligence community were able to piece together small little bits of information about how couriers got in and out of Osama bin Laden's compound, and -- which ultimately led to the discovery of that compound.
So it wasn't just signals intelligence. That was critically important. It wasn't just human intelligence. They had bits and pieces of sightings and other things, or at least identifying.
It was identifying the courier route and analytical corps in the intelligence community, who does this every day, putting small pieces together.
I'm going to bet, if you -- when they do the forensics of this particular raid, you're going to find lots of those same similarities. It's people who are focused on the target, who are in the neighborhood, who understand the players in the neighborhood, meaning our presence on the ground in Syria, as small as it was, was probably critically important to putting the intelligence package together.
You -- there's an old saying in intelligence: It's access, access, access. You need to be as close to the problem as you can if you're going to get information that would lead to a raid like this.
TAPPER: And we're going to find out how much Congress was notified about this ahead of time, if at all.
I believe it's customary to alert the heads of Congress and the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee.
Is that what happened during bin Laden, the bin Laden raid?
MONACO: So, my experience, with very sensitive operations like this one, is, one of the things you will be talking about in the Situation Room after the military briefs and the intelligence community briefs this operation, and you consider all the other risks, the question will turn to, how and when do we notify the key members of Congress?
That can involve the leadership, right, the leadership of both the House and the Senate, the Gang of Eight, as it were, which, of course, Chairman Rogers was a member of, so the leadership of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
And my experience is that that is done after the operation has concluded to a point where our folks are out of harm's way.
TAPPER: And that is because of the fear that there will be a leak?
And that was the case in the UBL raid, was an attempt to cloister the -- cloister the information and ensure that our people were safe that conducted the raid before word gets out, because that's -- we're -- news like that's hard to contain.
TAPPER: Is that something that Congress, that the Gang of Eight, as a former member of the Gang of Eight -- and just for those watching, the Gang of Eight is the leaders of the House and Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, and the leaders and top minority party of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, eight individuals.
You were a member of the Gang of Eight when you were chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Finding out after the fact or finding out once the -- before the nation does, but before you could have a say in it or anything, is that something that Congress understands?
ROGERS: Well, this case was very, very different.
I had a great relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency, the director and other players in the intelligence business. So, my Democrat counterpart and I were brought on in January, once we were sworn in as leadership, and followed the package as it developed, including the notification that it was going to happen before it happened.
But that's very rare. And I will tell you why that's rare, is for the environment that you see today. I would -- if I would -- were sitting in that chair, I would equally be very cautious about sharing any of that pre-event.
And, remember, at that time, the committee was focused on the intelligence work and making the community -- giving the resources that they had -- that they needed to have to be successful, all of those things.
So, in that case, it was very, very different. Matter of fact, I was called before the raid happen. I was called when the raid got called off for the first time and then called again.
So -- but that's -- that is a developed relationship in any oversight operation. You have to work to have that kind of relationship with the intelligence community.
ROGERS: And I certainly wouldn't -- I cannot even possibly imagine having any of those briefings today.
CLAPPER: And, importantly, in the case of House Intelligence Committee, under the chairmanship of Mike Rogers -- and the ranking member was Dutch Ruppersberger -- operated on a bipartisan basis, which made them, in the eyes the intelligence community, I can say, a lot more credible.
TAPPER: The way the Senate Intelligence Committee is right now, yes.
CLAPPER: Willing to share -- yes, well, much like the Senate appears to be now operating on a bipartisan basis.
And that is hugely important for the development of and sustainment of trust
TAPPER: A committee source, a source on the House Intelligence Committee, tells CNN that Chairman Schiff, the Democrat who heads the House Intelligence Committee, has not yet been briefed, even now, even as we expect President Trump any minute to come out and talk about this.
That seems surprising.
ROGERS: It just -- not to me, and I will tell you why.
The dysfunction -- you can't have that much dysfunction in that committee. It is now leading an impeachment inquiry, which, to me, is not the business of an Intelligence Committee.
There is very important work in oversight that needs to happen. And, remember, in the Osama bin Laden raid -- and I thought it was smart to reach out preemptively. If it went wrong, there were going to be -- there was going to be a very significant price to pay.
This was in another country. We had to cross that border into that country. Getting buy-in early, I thought, was smart and important. And they did that.
In this particular case, it doesn't have that same magnitude of crossing a border. We already had troops in this particular region.
But there is -- there are implications in this. We had Russian units near -- and Hezbollah operates near that particular area. I mean, it is a -- kind of a stew of terrorism up in that area, and folks who aren't necessarily cooperative to the United States.
So there's -- this was not without high risk, and there -- our operators and our intelligence officials get high marks for that.
But to try to walk down in this political environment, this sharp- elbowed environment, where I have a piece of information that helps me and hurt you, and they would -- might use it to that end, I think, is exactly why he doesn't know to this day.
MONACO: I would just say it's in -- it's in stark contrast to my experience, right?
So, after very sensitive operations, hostage rescue operations or attempts, et cetera, I'd be on the phone. When I was President Obama's counterterrorism adviser, I'd be on the phone talking to Republican and Democratic members of Congress to inform them, to brief them on the operation and to be in a constant dialogue.
So I think that's how it should operate. And that is a reflection of the building of trust that I think is very, very important, as Chairman Rogers said.
The fact that the head of the Intelligence Committee in the House, regardless of what else is going on in that particular body, hasn't been briefed, I think, is a testament to real dysfunction.
TAPPER: I mean, it is surprising that, at this point, he wouldn't be briefed by -- or at least even get a heads-up, given the fact that President Trump's going to come out any moment and talk about this.
I get that the White House doesn't like Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. I get that they don't like the impeachment inquiry, and on and on. I get that that committee has not been the same since you left its helm.
But, by the same token, he is still the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
And I -- it's -- I can only underline what Chairman Rogers has just said about the current environment and what -- and under normal, conventional rules, protocols, both the chairman and the ranking member of both the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee -- it will be interesting to know whether they had been notified.
And, in that case, the chairman is a Republican.
TAPPER: The other thing that's interesting, of course, is that when President Obama announced the OBL raid, that was announced, I think, on a Sunday night after 11:00.
I remember I was -- I got the -- I was a White House correspondent at the time. I got the alert maybe around 9:30 on a Sunday night, and we all had to run in. And he gave us the news, basically, as soon as he could give us the news, gave the country the news.
This information happened -- this happened last night. And there's really no reason to announce it at 9:00 a.m. and to delay the announcement. We're now almost 20 minutes into the 9:00 a.m. hour.
And we were told this was going to start at 9:00 a.m. -- unless, of course, the president is trying to have a big buildup. This is the showmanship that we know he appreciates.
This is part of this. And given the fact that so much of what the Sunday shows are -- oh, here he comes.
Here is President Trump, 20 minutes late, with a big announcement.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Last night, the United States brought the world's number one terrorist leader to justice.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. He was the founder and leader of ISIS, the most ruthless and violent terror organization anywhere in the world.
The United States has been searching for Baghdadi for many years. Capturing or killing Baghdadi has been the top national security priority of my administration.
U.S. special operations forces executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid in Northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style. The U.S. personnel were incredible.
I got to watch much of it.
No personnel were lost in the operation, while a large number of Baghdadi's fighters and companions were killed with him. 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. Eleven young children were moved out of the house and are uninjured.
The only ones remaining were Baghdadi in the tunnel. And he had dragged three of his young children with him. They were led to certain death. He reached the end of the tunnel as our dogs chased him down. 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 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.
We were in the compound for approximately two hours. And after the mission was accomplished, we took highly sensitive material and information from the raid, much having to do with ISIS origins, future plans, things that we very much want.
Baghdadi's demise demonstrates America's relentless pursuit of terrorist leaders and our commitment to the enduring and total defeat of ISIS and other terrorist organizations.
Our reach is very long. As you know, last month, we announced that we recently killed Hamza bin Laden, the very violent son of Osama bin Laden, who was saying very bad things about people, about our country, about the world. He was the heir apparent to al Qaeda.
Terrorists who oppress and murder innocent people should never sleep soundly, knowing that we will completely destroy them. These savage monsters will not escape their fate, and they will not escape the final judgment of God.
Baghdadi has been on the run for many years, long before I took office. But at 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. They are likewise in our sights. Baghdadi and the losers who worked for him -- and losers, they are -- they had no idea what they were getting into.
In some cases, they were very frightened puppies. In other cases, they were hard-core killers. But they killed many, many people.
Their murder of innocent Americans James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig, and Kayla Mueller were especially heinous.
The shocking publicized murder of Jordanian pilot, a wonderful young man -- spoke to the king of Jordan. They all knew him. They all loved him. He was burned alive in a cage for all to see.
And the execution of Christians in Libya and Egypt, as well as the genocidal mass murder of the Yazidis, rank ISIS among the most depraved organizations the history of our world, the forced religious conversions, the orange suits prior to so many beheadings, all of which were openly displayed for the world to see, this was all that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, this is what he wanted. This is what he was proud of.
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.
This was a very, very dangerous mission.
Thank you as well to the great intelligence professionals who helped make this very successful journey possible.
I want to thank the soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines involved in last night's operation. You are the very best there is anywhere in the world, no matter where you go. There is nobody even close.
I want to thank General Mark Milley and our Joint Chiefs of Staff. And I also want to thank our professionals who work in other agencies of the United States government and were critical to the mission's unbelievable success.
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. He will never again harm another innocent man, woman or child.
He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place.
God bless America. Thank you.
QUESTION: When did you first hear that this was an operation that was going to get started?
TRUMP: We have had him under surveillance for a couple of weeks.
We knew a little bit about where he was going, where he was heading. We had very good information that he was going to another location. He didn't go. Two or three efforts were canceled because he decided to change his mind, constantly changing his mind.
And, finally, we saw that he was here, held up here. We knew something about the compound. We knew it had tunnels. The tunnels were dead-end, for the most part. There was one, we think, that wasn't. But we had that covered too just in case. The level of intelligence, the level of work was pretty amazing. When
we landed with eight helicopters, a large crew of brilliant fighters ran out of those helicopters and blew holes into the side of the building, not wanting to go through the main door, because that was booby-trapped.
And there was something -- it was something really amazing to see. I got to watch it along with General Milley, Vice President Pence, others in the situation room. And we watched it so clearly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you watch this?
TRUMP: Well I don't want to say how but we had absolutely perfect, as though you were watching a movie. It was -- that -- the technology there alone is really great.
A big part of the trip that was of great danger was the -- it was proximately an hour and 10-minute flight and we're flying over very, very dangerous territory. In fact, some of our leaders said that that could be the most dangerous, flying in and flying out.
And that is why last night we were so quiet about it. We didn't say anything. And I didn't make my remark until after they had landed safely in a certain area. But the flight in, the flight out was a very, very dangerous part.
There was a chance that we would have met unbelievable fire. Russia treated us great, they opened up. We had to fly over certain Russia areas, Russia-held areas. Russia was great.
Iraq was excellent. We really had great cooperation. And you have to understand they didn't know what we were doing and where we were going exactly. But the ISIS fighters are hated as much by Russia and some of these other countries as they are by us. And that is why I say they should start doing a lot of the fighting now and they'll be able to. I really believe they'll be able to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, could you say what role the Kurds played in this generally?
TRUMP: They gave us not a military role at all but they gave us some information that turned out to be helpful -- the Kurds.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could you tell us what the role of Turkey might have been in Iraq?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was the role of Turkey? How did they help?
TRUMP: Turkey, we dealt with them. They knew we were going in. We flew over some territory. They were terrific. No problem. They were not problem. They could start shooting and then we will take them out but a lot of bad things can happen.
Plus it was a very secret mission. We flew very, very low and very, very fast. But it was a big -- it was a very dangerous part of the mission. Getting in and getting out, too, equal.
We went in identical -- we took an identical route. We met with gunfire coming in. But it was local gunfire.
That gunfire was immediately terminated. These people are amazing. They had the gunfire terminated immediately. Meaning, they were shot from the airships.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're trying to understand the timing. You talked earlier about pulling troops out, and then troops were put back in. I'm trying to understanding the timing of when this operation --
TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you, from the first day I came to office and now we're getting close to three years, I would say where is al- Baghdadi. I want al-Baghdadi. And we would kill terrorist leaders but there were names I've never heard of. There were names that weren't recognizable and they weren't the big names. Some good ones, some important ones but they weren't the big names.
I kept saying, where is al-Baghdadi? And a couple of weeks ago they were able to scope him out. These people are very smart, they are not into the use of cell phones any more. They're not.
They're very technically brilliant. They use the internet better than almost anybody in the world, perhaps other than Donald Trump. But they use the internet incredibly well and what they've done with the internet through recruiting and everything, and that is why he died like a dog, he died like a coward.
He was whimpering, screaming and crying. And frankly I think it's something that should be brought out so that his followers and all of these young kids that want to leave various countries, including the United States, they should see how he died.
He didn't die a hero. He died a coward. Crying, whimpering, screaming and bringing three kids with him to die a certain death. And he knew the tunnel had no end. I mean, it was a -- it was a closed-end -- they call it a closed-end tunnel. Not a good place to be.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this is going on before you made the announcement that you're pulling --
TRUMP: I've been looking for him for three years. I've been looking for him -- I started getting some very positive feedback about a month ago.
[09:35:02] And we had some incredible intelligence official that did a great job. That is what they should be focused on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About what time did this operation start yesterday, sir? And have you notified --
TRUMP: Well, this operation started two weeks ago in terms of the real operation because we had him scoped. We thought he would be in a certain location. He was. Things started checking out very well.
We were involved on our own team with some brilliant people who I've gotten to know. Brilliant people that love our country. Highly intelligent people. And we -- we've had it pretty well scoped out for a couple of weeks.
But he tends to change immediately. He had a lot of cash. He tends to change like on a dime. Where he'll be going to a certain location all of a sudden he'll go someplace else and you'll have to cancel.
But this was one where we knew he was there and you could never be 100 percent sure because you're basing it on technology more than anything else. But we thought he was there. And then we got a confirmation. And when we went in they were greeted with a lot of fire power. A lot of fire power.
I'll tell you, these guys they do a job. They are so brave and so good and so importantly many of his people were killed and we'll announce the exact number over the next 24 hours. But many were killed.
We lost nobody. Think of that. That is incredible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You told the Russians -- requested --
TRUMP: My dog was hurt -- actually the K-9 was hurt, went into the tunnel. But we lost nobody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You requested to the Russians to fly over this area they controlled. What did you tell them --
TRUMP: I spoke to the Russians.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you tell them?
TRUMP: We told them we're coming in. And they said, thank you for telling us. They were very good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But did you tell them why? No?
TRUMP: No. They did not know why.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was any other country --
TRUMP: We did tell them we think you're going to be very happy because again they hate ISIS as much as we do. You know what ISIS has done to Russia. So, no, we did not tell. They did not know the mission but they knew we were going over an area that they had -- they had a lot of fire power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And have you notified the congressional committees about this -- Pelosi --
TRUMP: We have notified some, others are 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 is nothing -- there is 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.
I don't want to have them greeted with fire power like you wouldn't believe. So, we were able to get in. It was top secret. It was kept. There were no leaks, no nothing.
The only people that knew were the few people that I dealt with. And again, Mark Milley and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were incredible. We had some tremendous back-up. Robert O'Brien, Secretary Esper, Secretary Pompeo, Pence I told you, he was great. We -- there's a very small group of people that knew about this. We had very, very few people.
We -- a leak -- a leak could have caused the death of all of them. Now they are so good that I think nothing was going to stop them anyway. You want to know the truth. That is how good we were.
We had them also surrounded by massive air power up in the air yesterday surrounded at very high levels. We were very low. We had tremendous air power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you watched all this from the sit room. Who were you with in the sit room when you watched this?
TRUMP: Secretary Esper, a few of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, some generals, we had some very great military people in that room. And we had some great intelligence people. Robert O'Brien. Really great. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was the pull-out of the U.S. troops in Syria last month strategically tied in with this raid?
TRUMP: No, no. The pull-out -- right. Sure. It's a great question. And you're doing a great job by the way. Your network is fantastic. They are really doing a great job. Please let them know.
No, the pull-out had nothing to do with this. In fact, we found this out at a similar time. It's a very good question because we found this out at a very similar time. No, we were after these leaders and we have others in sight. Very bad ones. But this was the big one. This is the biggest one perhaps that we've ever captured because this is the one that built ISIS and beyond.
And was looking to rebuild it again. Very, very strongly looking to build it again. That is why he went to this province. That is why he went to this area.
A lot of people I was watching this morning and hearing and they said, why was he there? People were so surprised. Well that is where he was trying to rebuild from. Because that was the place that made most sense if you looking to rebuild. Yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said in your tweet last night, at what moment did you decide (INAUDIBLE) --
TRUMP: So, I said that right after I knew they had landed safely.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When they had returned?
TRUMP: Right. And that was to notify you guys that you have something big this morning so you wouldn't be out playing golf or tennis or -- or otherwise being indisposed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where were they safe? Where had they -- where had they landed?
TRUMP: I would rather not say. But we landed in a very friendly port in a friendly country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give you any pause about your decision to withdraw?
TRUMP: No, I think it is great. Look, 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 case they have a hell of a fight but there is massive amounts of oil and we're securing it for a couple of reasons. Number one, it stops ISIS because ISIS got tremendous wealth from that oil. We have taken it, secured it.
Number two -- and again somebody else may claim it but either we'll negotiate a deal with whoever is claiming it if we think it is fair or we will militarily stop them very quickly. We have tremendous power in that part of the world. We have -- the airport is right nearby. A very big, very monstrous, very powerful airport and very expensive airport that was built years ago. We're in there for -- we're in that Middle East now for $8 trillion. So we don't want to be keeping Syria and Turkey -- they're going to have to make their own decision. The Kurds have worked along incredibly with us but in all fairness it was much easier dealing with the Kurds after they went through three days of fighting because that was a brutal three days.
We would have said to the Kurds, hey, do you mind moving over seven miles because they were in the middle mostly. So you have seven or eight miles. Could you mind moving over? Because I have to say, Turkey has taken tremendous deaths from that part of the world. We call it a safe zone but it was anything but a safe zone.
Turkey has lost thousands and thousands of people from that safe zone. So they've always wanted that safe zone for many years. I'm glad I was able to help them get it.
But we don't want to be there. We want to be home. I want our soldiers home. We're fighting something that is meaningful.
I'll tell you who loves us being there. Russia and China. Because while they build their military, we're depleting our military there so Russia loves us being there.
Now Russia likes us being there for two reasons. Because we kill ISIS, we kill terrorists and they're very close to Russia. We're 8,000 miles away. Now maybe they can get here but we've done very well with homeland security and the band which, by the way, is approved by the United States Supreme Court as you know.
There was a reporter that said we lost the case. And he was right. In the early court. He refused -- he didn't want to say -- just refused to say that we won the case in the Supreme Court. So you know -- but we have a very effective band and it is very hard for people to come to our country but it's many -- thousands of miles away whereas Russia is right there. Turkey is right there. Syria is there. They're all right there.
Excuse me, Iran is right there. Iraq is right there. They all hate ISIS. So we don't -- you know, in theory they should do something. I'll give you something else, the European nations have been a tremendous disappointment because I personally called but -- my people called a lot, take your ISIS fighters and they didn't want them. They said, we don't want them.
They came from France. They came from Germany. They came from the U.K. They came from a lot of countries.
And I actually said to them, if you don't take them, I'm going to drop them right on your border. And you could have fun capturing them again. But the United States taxpayer is not going to pay for the next 50 years. You see what Guantanamo costs.
We're not going to pay tens of billions of dollars because we were good enough to capture people that want to go back to Germany, France, U.K. and other parts of Europe and they can walk back. They can't walk to our country. We have lots of water in between our country and them.
So yes, go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mentioned that you've met some -- gotten to know some brilliant people along this process who would help provide information and advice along the way.
Is there anyone in particular or would you like to give anyone credit for getting to this point today?
TRUMP: Well, I would but if I mention one I have to mention so many. I spoke to Senator Richard Burr this morning. And as you know he's very involved with intelligence and the committee. And he's a great gentleman.
I spoke with Lindsey Graham just a little while ago. In fact Lindsey Graham is right over here and he's been very much involved in this subject and he's -- he's a very strong hawk. But I think Lindsey agrees with what we're doing now.
And again there are plenty of other countries that can help them patrol. I don't want to leave a thousand or 2,000 or 3,000 soldiers on the border. But where Lindsey and I totally agree is the oil. The oil is so valuable for many reasons.
It fueled ISIS, number one. Number two, it helps the Kurds. Because it is basically been taken away from the Kurds. They were able to live with that oil.
And number three, it can help us because we should be able to take some also. And what I intend to do, perhaps, is make a deal with an ExxonMobil or one of our great companies to go in there and do it properly. Right now it is not big. It is big oil underground but it is not big oil up top. And much of the machinery has been shot and dead. It has been through wars. But -- and spread out the wealth.
But no, we're protecting the oil. We're securing the oil. Now that doesn't mean we don't make a deal at some point. But I don't want to be -- they are fighting for a thousand years. They're fighting for centuries. I want to bring our soldiers back home but I do want to secure the oil.
If you read about the history of Donald Trump, I was a civilian. I had absolutely nothing to do with going into Iraq and I was totally against it. But I always used to say, if they're going to go in -- nobody cared that much but it got written about -- if they are going to go in -- I'm sure you've heard the statement because I made it more than any human being alive, if they are going into Iraq, keep the oil. They never did. They never did.
I know Lindsey Graham had a bill where basically we would have been paid back for all of the billions of dollars that we've spent. Many, many billions of dollars. I mean, I hate to say it, it is actually trillions of dollars. But many, many billions of dollars. And by one vote they were unable to get that approved in the Senate. They had some pretty big opposition from people that shouldn't have opposed like a president and they weren't able. If you did that Iraq would be a much different story today because they would be owing us a lot of money. They would be treating us much differently. But I will say Iraq was very good with respect to the raid last night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to pin down the timing a little bit better here. You got back to the White House around 4:30 yesterday afternoon. Did you immediately go to the situation room?
TRUMP: I knew all about this for three days. Yes. We thought for three days this is what was going to happen.
It was actually -- nobody was even hurt. Our K-9 as they call -- I call it a dog. A beautiful dog. A talented dog. Was injured and brought back.
But we had no soldier injured and they did a lot of shooting, and they did a lot of blasting. Even not going through the front door. You would think you go through the door. If you're a normal person, you say, knock, knock, may I come in? The fact is that they blasted their way into the house in a very heavy wall and it took them literally seconds. By the time those things were off, they had a beautiful big hole and they ran in and then they got everybody by surprise.
Unbelievably brilliant as fighters. I don't -- I can't imagine there could be anybody better. And these, as you know, are our top operations people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Baghdadi apparently has been in bad health for some time. Was there any indication of that --
TRUMP: Well, we don't know that but he was the last one out and his people had either been killed, which there were many, or give up and came out. Because with the 11 children that came out, we were able to do that.
We don't know if they were his children. They might have been. But as I said, three died in the tunnel. And the tunnel collapsed with the explosion. But you had other fighters coming out also. And they're being brought back. They're being -- right now we have them imprisoned.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- children they were but do you remember what time you went into the situation room?
TRUMP: Well, I started at 5:00. We were pretty much gathered at 5:00 yesterday. We were in contact all day long through hopefully secure phones.
I'll let you know tomorrow. But nothing seemed to leak so I guess they were secure for a change. But we gathered more or less at 5:00.
The attack started moments after that. The liftoff started moments after that. Again, the element of attack that they were most afraid of was getting from our base into that compound, because there's tremendous firepower that we were, you know, flying over.
And I won't go into it but you had a very big Russian presence in one area, you had a Turkish presence, you had a Syrian presence. And you're flying low. It's very dangerous.
And there were shots made but we think these were people that were shooting that were indiscriminately shooting. The helicopters took some shots. But we think that these were people that were just random people that don't like to see helicopters, I guess.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was there any kind of DNA test done or --
TRUMP: So that's another part of the genius of these people. They brought his -- they have his DNA. More of it than they want, even. And they brought it with them with lab technicians who were with them. And they assumed that this was Baghdadi.
They thought visually it was him. But they assumed it was him. And they did a site, an onsite test. They got samples. And to get to his body they had to remove a lot of debris because the tunnel had collapsed, but these people are very good at that.
And they -- as I said, they brought body parts back with them, et cetera, et cetera. There wasn't much left. The vest blew up but there are still substantial pieces that they brought back. So they did an onsite test because we had to know this. And it was a very quick cool that took place about 15 minutes after he was killed. And it was positive. It was -- this is a confirmation, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was also reported his wife had detonated -- or one of his wives had detonated a vest.
TRUMP: So, there were two women. There were two women. Both wives. Both wearing vests. They had not detonated. But the fact that they were dead and they had vests on made it very difficult for our men because they had vests on. And it made it very difficult for our men. Because you never know what's going to happen.
They aligned their dead. They never detonated it. But they were dead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On the success -- the possible successors, have you been briefed on who --
(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: Yes, we know the successors and we've already got them in our sights and we'll tell you that right now but we know the successors.
Hamza bin Laden was a very big thing but this is the biggest there is. This is the worst ever.
Osama bin Laden was very big but 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, a caliphate, and was trying to do it again.
And I had not heard too much about his health. I've heard stories about he may not have been in good health. But he died -- he died in a ruthless, vicious manner, that I can tell you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were any adults taken?
TRUMP: Yes, we have people that were taken. We have -- many of the people died on the site. But we have people that were taken, yes. And the children, we are -- we left them under care of somebody that we understand. Eleven children.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe these were all -- 11 children, how many adults?
TRUMP: I would rather not say. I'll leave that to the generals. But a small group. More dead than alive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which special operations teams were involved?
TRUMP: Many of them. And at the top level. And people that were truly incredible at their craft. I've never seen anything like it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as partnerships goes, were there any other forces involved or was this only American troops --
TRUMP: No. Only American forces.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the U.S. --
TRUMP: Only American forces. But we were given great cooperation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the U.S. rely on --
TRUMP: We told the Russians we're coming in, because we had to go over them. And they were curious but we said, we're coming. And we said, one way or the other -- look, we're coming. But they were really cooperative. They really were good. And we did say it would be a mission that they would like too, because again, they hate ISIS as much as we do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For intel purposes was there any -- was there any foreign intel that proved useful along the way in this operation? TRUMP: So, we had our own intel. We got very little help. We didn't need very much help. We have some incredible people.
When we use our intelligence correctly, what we can do is incredible. When we waste our time with intelligence, that hurts our country, because we had poor leadership at the top, that's not good. But I've gotten to know many of the intel people and I will say that they are spectacular.
Now, they're not going to want talk about it. They want to keep it quiet. The last thing they want, because these are -- these are great patriots. But the people that I've been dealing with are incredible people and it's really a deserving name, intelligence.
I've dealt with some people that aren't very intelligent having to do with intel. But this is the top people. And it was incredible, it was flawless, and it was very complicated.
But -- so I do appreciate Russia, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria to an extent, because, you know, we're flying into Syria, a lot of Syrian people with lots of guns. So we had good cover for probably the most dangerous part. It would not sound -- when you fly in, it doesn't sound like that's the most dangerous, when you're going in shooting and all of the things that happened once they broke into that pretty powerful compound, that was a pretty strong compound, and as I said, it had tunnels. But the most dangerous part, we had great cooperation with -- yes, madam.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you inform Speaker Pelosi ahead of time?
TRUMP: No, I didn't -- I didn't do that. I wanted to make sure this is kept secret. I didn't want to have men lost and women. I don't want to have people lost.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- anticipate inviting the Special Forces teams to the White House after this?
TRUMP: Oh, yes, they'll be invited. I don't know if they'll want have their faces shown to be honest with you. They want to -- they're incredible for the country. They're not looking for public --
TAPPER: All right. As the press conference and announcement turns into lesser matters about who will be invited to the White House to thank them let's talk about the momentous announcement that President Trump just made.
Again, to recap, he said last night U.S. special operators, he didn't mention who it was, but we have been told that the Delta Force operators were part of it, raided a building and in that raid were ISIS creator, founder, and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was, Baghdadi was killed. The president painted a very vivid picture of Baghdadi grabbing three of his children and running down a tunnel, and then detonating his suicide vest in which he killed himself and his three children.
Other terrorists with ISIS were killed and captured according to President Trump. Let's talk about this again. I'm joined by former top U.S. officials and experts in the fight against terrorism and ISIS. Let's discuss.
First of all, I just have to say, a lot of details from President Trump. And I'm wondering and I don't want to take away the moment from him or from the U.S. government for our special operators, obviously this is a big and important moment. But were you concerned at all listening to that whether he was giving too much information?
I mean, I'm a journalist, I want it all, but I saw some grimaces around this table.
LISA MONACO, FORMER OBAMA HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Yes. I was struck. I was struck by the details about having known ahead of time, I believe that's what the president said, that they knew ahead of time that there were tunnels, they knew ahead of time that there were booby traps. That says to me that there were some rather unique and probably exquisite intelligence that had been gathered most likely from somebody on the ground. And so that's potentially concerning, and I wonder how the intelligence professionals who have labored very long and hard on this operation felt hearing that.
TAPPER: Let us take one moment just to talk about also the president's long list of people he thanked. He started with Russia and then talked about Syria, Turkey, Iraq. He then said that there was some support from the Kurds. He did ultimately thanked, obviously, the special operators and the intelligence community.
What did you make of all of that?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, to me, it was -- that was where he got into this rambling thing. He was -- I thought he was pretty good when he stuck to the teleprompter. He went through a list of important, I think, announcements about the raid.
By the way, including for the first time talking about how bad ISIS really is on the ground. Forced rapes, children forced into committing executions, to teach them at a young age. The burning of the pilot in the cage. I mean, they were raping, pillaging, and murdering all across Syria. And I think the country needed to be reminded how bad al-Baghdadi was --
ROGERS: -- and what ISIS was doing. I thought that was a pretty good moment.
I wish they had cut off the press conference right about then, that's when he got off record and started rambling around. He didn't think his CIA chief --