President Donald Trump asserted in his televised address from the White House Sunday that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was “whimpering and crying ” before ultimately detonating his suicide vest in a tunnel as US commandos closed in.
Trump painted the ISIS leader as a coward, describing in great detail how he “spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him.”
“He died like a dog. …The world is now a much safer place,” he added.
But top defense officials who watched the raid alongside the President in the Situation Room have demurred when asked to corroborate the President’s colorful description of Baghdadi’s demise, raising questions about where Trump got the information.
Asked specifically about the “whimpering” line Monday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said he did not know where the President got those details but noted Trump had planned to talk to some of the commandos who carried out the operation and assumed the information came from those conversations.
“I know the President had planned to talk to … unit members, but I — I don’t know what the source of that was. But I assume it was talking directly to unit and unit members,” he said, adding he could not confirm if those conversations took place.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has also said publicly he was not sure where Trump got that information from.
“I don’t have those details,” Esper said during an interview with ABC on Sunday, adding “the President probably had the opportunity to talk to some of the commanders on the ground.”
White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley did not directly address the issue Monday when asked how the President saw and knew Baghdadi’s emotions in his final moments, telling reporters that he was “not going to talk about specifics on technology of what we do during those moments.”
However, Gidley reiterated that Baghdadi “was one of the most grotesque people on the planet and he died just as the President said — crying and whimpering and running from his ultimate fate.”
Some officials who worked on the President’s speech later told colleagues that the version Trump delivered on Sunday did not resemble what they had put together, according to people familiar with the matter. Trump told aides he wanted a “tough” speech, according to one person familiar with the situation.
Trump and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who played a chief role in writing the remarks, were tweaking the copy at the last minute, which made Trump late to the podium, CNN has learned.
When Trump delivered the “whimpering” line, many officials assumed he had spoken to some of the commandos who carried out the raid — but as of now the White House has not confirmed that he has done that.
One defense official tells CNN it is not likely the President’s comments are based on him hearing Baghdadi’s voice inside the Situation Room where he monitored the operation in real time unless special arrangements were made.
The raid was a success even if Trump embellished some of the details in his televised address.
Esper described the death of the ISIS leader as a “devastating blow” to ISIS. “This is not just their leader, it’s their founder. He was an inspirational leader in many ways,” Esper told CNN in another interview Sunday.
The defense secretary also ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday that “less than 100” troops were on the ground for the raid on Baghdadi though, “these are always much bigger operations, the tail of which stretches back deep into the intelligence community.”
But Trump’s full court press continues and administration officials are wary of doing anything to publicly contradict the President.
On Wednesday, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie who was the senior officer overseeing the raid is expected to make public declassified video from a drone flying overhead during the raid.