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U.S. military says Syria objectives remain unchanged, despite al-Baghdadi’s death

The leader of the Islamic State group is dead. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died over the weekend in a U.S. special forces raid in northwest Syria. U.S. officials said Kurdish partners provided useful intelligence about al-Baghdadi's location. The terrorist leader motivated tens of thousands of ISIS fighters to seize territory the size of England and declared it a caliphate. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The leader of the Islamic State group is dead. What that means for ISIS is still a live question tonight.

    Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died over the weekend in a U.S. Special Forces raid in Northwest Syria. Officials said today that his remains were buried at sea.

    Foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin takes it from there.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today, all that's left of the House where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi hid is pulverized stone. U.S. military jets destroyed the compound late Saturday night after special operations forces attacked and Baghdadi blew himself up.

    Today U.S. officials revealed new details on his arrival here in Barisha, near the Turkish border. He was protected by an al-Qaida offshoot, and had transited through the area often. And U.S. intelligence tracked him down with the help of Syrian Kurds.

    For five years, the U.S. has been working with those Kurds to fight ISIS. Earlier this month, President Trump ordered the U.S. to withdraw, and then said U.S. troops would stay to protect Syrian oil fields. Moving forward, U.S. soldiers will provide that protection and continue the five-year-old strategy, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said today at the Pentagon.

  • Defense Secretary Mark Esper:

    Our mission in Syria remains the same as it was when we first began operations in 2014, to enable the enduring defeat of ISIS.

    Our recent repositioning of forces within the country is intended to posture us to continue this mission and give the president options.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As part of that mission, U.S. officials confirmed today U.S. and Kurdish troops killed ISIS spokesman Abul-Hasan al-Muhajir, considered the group's number two, behind Baghdadi.

    Baghdadi was one of the most successful terrorists in history, self-declaring a caliphate across Syria and Iraq. Tens of thousands of his radical fighters took control of territory that at its peak was as large as England. They spread a violent and perverse brutality across the region.

  • Man:

    Living in the West, I know how you feel. In your heart, you feel depressed.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And they created an unprecedented media campaign that attracted thousands of Westerners.

    Baghdadi's most famous speech took place in the al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul, Iraq. Today, that mosque is back in Iraq's control, but is in ruins, a relic of the U.S.-led campaign, and reminder of the challenges that remain.

  • President Donald Trump:

    He's dead. He's dead as a doornail.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today in Chicago, President Trump praised the soldiers who killed Baghdadi, and he said ISIS prisoners feared to have escaped in Turkey's recent incursion into Syria were secure.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We have now tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners under tight supervision. And now we want the countries in the region to police their own borders.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But U.S. troops will remain in Syria, and even the Pentagon admits that ISIS remains a threat to both Syria and Iraq.

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

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