President Donald Trump announced early Sunday that Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed in a US military strike in Syria on Saturday.
Al-Baghdadi's killing marks a major victory for US forces after the reclusive leader has spent the last five years in hiding while the United States placing a $25 million bounty on his head in 2016.
Since then, the CIA's mission to find the leader got a boost in Summer 2019 when one of al-Baghdadi's wives and a courier were arrested and interrogated, according to the New York Times.
The Times reports that the agency ramped up its plans for Baghdadi's capture in coordination with Iraqi and Kurdish intelligence officials in Iraq and Syria, who helped narrow down the leader's exact location and strategically place spies to monitor his movements in the months before US forces moved in for the strike.
However, as agents moved closer to a definite plan of attack, Trump's shock decision earlier this month to pull US troops out of northern Syria, allowing Turkish forces to attack US-allied Kurds, caused concerns that US relationships and the mission at large was jeopardized.
Officials who spoke to the Times praised the Kurds for continuing their work providing intelligence to the CIA even after Trump announced the US retreat, which ultimately didn't hinder the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds in providing more intelligence for the raid "than any single country," one official told the Times.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that despite the months of planning, the decision to execute the mission came within a day of the strikes.
"It wasn't until Thursday and then Friday the president chose his option and gave us the green light to proceed as we did yesterday," Esper said, adding that he didn't know if US forces could have executed the strikes if American troops been completely withdrawn from Syria.
In a free-wheeling press conference the morning after the strike, Trump detailed the mission that trapped the former leader and some of his children in a tunnel before he detonated a suicide vest. The president also thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Syrian Kurds for their assistance in the strike, but emphasized that US agents were at the heart of the operation.
"This raid was impeccable and could only have taken place with the acknowledgment and help of certain other nations and people," Trump during a nationally-televised press conference on Sunday morning. "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."