Syrian Democratic Forces also claim they played a key role in tracking down Baghdadi to a compound in northern Syria
Julian Borger in Washington and Martin Chulov in Beirut
Mon 28 Oct 2019
Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces as they withdraw from the Sanjak Saadoun border area near the northern Syrian town of Amuda, on 27 October. Photograph: Delil Souleiman/AFP via Getty Images
Syrian Kurds say they managed to place a spy in Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s inner circle who stole a pair of the Islamic State leader’s underpants to prove his identity and then helped guide US soldiers to his Syrian hideout.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) claim they played a key role in tracking down Baghdadi to a compound in northern Syria where he was reportedly planning his escape over the nearby border into Turkey.
Donald Trump has thus played down the role of the SDF, who fought the military campaign against Isis with US troops, but whom Trump abandoned earlier this month by ordering US troops to stand aside before a Turkish offensive against the Syrian Kurds.
“Since 15 May, we have been working together with the CIA to track Al Baghdadi and monitor him closely,” Polat Can, a senior SDF official said on Twitter. “One of our sources was able to reach the house where Al Baghdadi was hiding. Al Baghdadi changed his places of residence very often. He was about to move to a new place in Jerablus [on the border with Turkey].”
He continued: “Our own source, who had been able to reach Al Baghdadi, brought Al Baghdadi’s underwear to conduct a DNA test and make sure (100%) that the person in question was Al Baghdadi himself.”
Trump has claimed credit for masterminding the operation that led to Baghdadi’s death, but according to the SDF version, his withdrawal of US forces led to a postponement of the operation.
“More than a month ago, the decision was made to eliminate Al Baghdadi. However, the US withdrawal and the Turkish invasion prompted us to stop our special operations, including the pursuit of Al Baghdadi. The Turkish invasion caused a delay in the operation,” Can said.
“Our intelligence source was involved in sending coordinates, directing the airdrop, participating in and making the operation a success until the last minute.”