U.S. and Turkish soldiers conduct a joint patrol on Nov. 1, 2018, outside Manbij, Syria. (U.S. Army Photo/SPC Arnada Jones)

SDF Had Been Tracking al-Baghdadi ‘in Areas Under the Military Control of the Turkish State’

The Syrian Democratic Forces said today that the operation against ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was delayed for “more than a month due to the Turkish aggression on our region.”

Al-Baghdadi killed himself in an overnight U.S. military raid in Barisha, a town near the Turkish border in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib.

Composed of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Syriacs and other minorities, the SDF was the ground fighting force that painstakingly chipped away at territory claimed by ISIS in Syria, culminating in taking back the caliphate’s declared capital, Raqqa, in a 2017 battle.

A statement from SDF general command noted that al-Baghdadi’s location was “near a Turkish military base.”

“This historic achievement was the result of the close cooperation between the SDF and the United States of America,” the SDF said, noting that the joint intelligence operation preceding the raid lasted five months. “We consider the operation as revenge for the massacres committed by the terrorist organization in Kobani, Sinjar, the Khabour Basin, Nineveh Plain, Khanaqin, Makhmour and revenge for the Kurdish Yezidi women in particular, and a revenge for humanity and all the victims of ISIS crimes worldwide.”

SDF said their military intelligence had documented “the presence of high-ranking ISIS leaders including al-Baghdadi in areas under the military control of the Turkish state.”

“We warn the world of the danger that jihadi factions with the Turkish army may enter Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad areas occupied by Turkey-backed militias and that the region could become another safe haven in which ISIS may find opportunities to re-organize,” the statement continued. “We have already indicated that IS members and and some senior leaders of the group have already moved to areas controlled by Turkish army in northern Syria. Presence of Turkish army and its mercenaries in Idlib, Afrin and the so-called ‘Euphrates Shield’ areas and the recent operation that led to the killing of al-Baghdadi in the same area where Turkish army is present is yet another evidence of the authenticity of our repeated warnings.”

The SDF confirmed it will continue to partner with the U.S. on fighting ISIS and added that its military intelligence units “will step up their efforts to pursue and combat the leaders of ISIS and its cells.”

In his address to reporters today, President Trump thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Kurds for helping with the raid. The Russian Ministry of Defense said in response that it “does not have reliable information on the U.S. servicemen conducting in the Turkish-controlled part of the de-escalation zone of Idlib an operation on yet another ‘elimination’ of the former IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”

“We are unaware of any alleged assistance to the flying of U.S. aviation into the airspace of the Idlib de-escalation zone during this operation,” Major-General Igor Konashenkov said, according to RIA.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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