Last Saturday night, approximately 70 special operators hailing from Delta Force’s A Squadron and the 75th Ranger Regiment stormed a compound in the Idlib Province of Northeast Syria with orders to kill or capture ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The mission has been hailed as a complete success, with no American troops lost and one service dog injured, but U.S. forces had lingering concerns about the compound al-Baghdadi died in becoming a shrine of sorts for ISIS and other affiliated extremist groups. How do you prevent a facility that once housed a mad man from becoming a church that honors the same? Simple: you turn it into a parking lot.
And video from the strikes (using standoff munitions) that destroyed the compound. pic.twitter.com/v4OFDtJSY5
— Jake Godin (@JakeGodin) October 30, 2019
Despite the United States fast-tracking a great deal of information about this raid to the public, details regarding air support assets tied to the mission remain sparse. SOFREP’s sources within JSOC confirmed that F-15E Strike Eagles participated in air strikes against ground targets tied to the mission, and CENTCOM has since confirmed that fourth and fifth generation fighters were assigned to support. That means that either F-22 Raptors or F-35A Joint Strike Fighters were also involved — and feasibly, either could have been on station given current deployments to that region of the globe. In fact, fighters could have been flying in holding patters over Turkish airspace just ten miles away from the compound’s location — limiting the chance that their presence would alert local fighters while still enabling them to reach the compound in a matter of seconds if needed. Truthfully, air assets could have launched from a number of bases throughout the region and further away in Europe without much trouble.
CENTCOM released footage of American aircraft using “standoff munitions” to destroy the compound after it was emptied by U.S. troops, which coupled with CENTCOM statements about using the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) for this purpose has led many to believe the footage shows the JASSM in use. However, as Joseph Trevithick and Tyler Rogoway have pointed out, the angle of descent in the footage seems to suggest it shows GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs). That would still be in keeping with CENTCOM’s statements regarding “standoff munitions,” as the JDAM can be dropped from around 15 miles away and still find its target. Theoretically, that means the weapon could have even been deployed inside Turkish airspace, if that was indeed where air support was standing by.
It seems likely that multiple weapons were used to destroy the compound, with JDAMs and other weapons delivering the initial hits and JASSMs called in thereafter to eliminate any remaining structures. Unlike JDAMs, JASSMs can be fired from hundreds of miles away, meaning American forces wouldn’t need to be anywhere need the compound to have continued using them. That assertion is supported by different pieces of footage showing different weapons being used on the structure, including some deployed by drones.
— Aurora Intel (@AuroraIntel) October 28, 2019
The result speaks for itself. While earlier footage shows a looming structure with a perimeter wall that seems to measure around 9 feet tall (when compared to the approaching U.S. Special Operators also seen in the video), the aftermath shows little more than pock-marked stretch of dirt.
And it’s hard to make a shrine out of that.