U.S.-led raid kills ISIS leader. What’s next in the fight against the terrorist group?

U.S. special operations forces conducted a raid overnight Thursday in Syria that ended in the death of the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al-Qurashi. Nick Schifrin examines the collateral damage and the future of the fight against the terrorist group.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The United States has claimed a new victory in the long-running war on the Islamic State group. The leader of ISIS died last night, when American commandos raided his hideout in Syria.

    Foreign correspondent Nick Schifrin begins our coverage.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In Northwest Syria, this is all that's left of what U.S. officials call ISIS in Iraq and Syria's effective command center and where, overnight, U.S. special operations forces conducted a raid that ended in the death of leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, also known as Hajji Abdullah.

  • President Joe Biden:

    Last night's operation took a major terrorist leader off the battlefield, and has sent a strong message to terrorists around the world: We will come after you and find you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Senior U.S. officials say, when U.S. and mostly Kurdish allied troops arrived, they announced their presence to capture al-Qurashi. Instead he detonated a bomb, collapsing the top floor and killing his family.

  • President Joe Biden:

    He chose to blow himself up — not just with a vest, but to blow up that third floor rather than face justice for the crimes he has committed.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    After daybreak, local cameramen filmed the building's second floor, where U.S. officials say a senior ISIS lieutenant and his wife fought back using children as shields.

    Landlord Abu Ahmad walked through the damaged home.

    Abu Ahmad, Owner of House Targeted By U.S. Forces (through translator): This guy lived here for 11 months. I didn't see anything suspicious or notice anything. He would come and pay the rent and leave.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    During the raid, gunmen affiliated with a local branch of al-Qaida engaged the U.S. soldiers, and were killed, outside the house, signs of a firefight, and the roof destroyed by al-Qurashi's bomb.

  • Hussein Al-Kurdi, Eyewitness (through translator):

    Around 1:00 a.m., we heard a loud sound. I opened the window then went outside. The first thing I thought is that it was a car bomb. But then I looked up and saw helicopters. They passed above our home and came here.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ahead of the raid, U.S. officials say they rejected a plan to bomb the site from the air, because it would have killed too many civilians.

    The U.S. blamed all the civilians killed on al-Qurashi's bomb and the second floor firefight.

    Central Command Chief General Frank McKenzie spoke this afternoon on a virtual briefing.

  • Gen. Frank Mckenzie, Commander, U.S. Central Command:

    The mission was carefully designed and we believe very effective at minimizing harm to noncombatants. But, as always, we will look into whether any unintended harm resulted from U.S. actions

  • Nick Schifrin:

    U.S. officials say one helicopter that took part in the raid went down with a mechanical problem. U.S. forces destroyed it nearby.

    But, otherwise, a senior U.S. official said — quote — "Everything ran according to clockwork." Officials said they confirmed al-Qurashi's location in December, and President Biden provided the final order on Tuesday morning.

    Last night, he watched the raid unfold in the Situation Room, briefed live by defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley from the Pentagon.

    Pentagon spokesman John Kirby:

  • John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary:

    They're leaderless today. And that's a significant blow. This is not something that we believe ISIS is just going to be able to get over real quickly and real easily.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Al-Qurashi became a senior ISIS leader in 2014, and took over in 2019 from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after he killed himself in a U.S. raid in the same part of Syria.

    Officials call al-Qurashi the driving force behind what the U.S. labeled a genocide of the Yazidi ethnic minority in Northern Iraq. He was a mysterious figure rarely seen in photos. He never recorded messages for ISIS foot soldiers, and U.S. officials say he communicated by courier.

    But the U.S. says he personally directed operations in Syria and Iraq, including last week's assault on a prison in Northeast Syria. It was the largest ISIS attack in years. Allied mostly Kurdish troops and American forces had to fight back for days to maintain prison control.

    And U.S. officials say Qurashi provided inspiration for the ISIS fighters responsible for attacks in Afghanistan and for a resurgence in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Gen. Frank Mckenzie:

    I do think it makes it harder for them to come up with an integrated global approach.

    And I think what you're going to see is a continued devolvement to the regional level of these organizations. When you don't have a central core that can disperse money and share money among competing franchises, it makes it harder for them to be resourced.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It was a risky raid that won't stop ISIS' ideology, but eliminates its most senior leader.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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