In front of a crowd in Tupelo, Mississippi, on Friday President Donald Trump once again asserted that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was “trembling” and “crying” before his death.
But defense officials say they don't know where that claim came from.
Several Defense Department officials told The New York Times, on the condition of anonymity, that they were not aware of evidence or after-action reports that support details told in president's account of the terrorist leader's death. The Times reported that the drone footage of the operation that Trump watched in the Situation Room had no audio.
“I don't know how he would know that,” one senior official who is “deeply familiar” with the matter told The Times. “It sounds like something he made up.”
When asked about the defense officials' statements, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham interpreted it as “trying to pick apart the details of the death,” The Times reported. She added in an email to the newspaper, “We are not going to get into any of the operational details of how the president receives information.”
“Is it not possible to just celebrate that a terrorist, murderer, and rapist has been killed?” she asked to The Times.
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command, told reporters this week that he was “not able to confirm anything else” about Baghdadi's last moments.
“We believe Baghdadi actually may have fired from his hole in his last moments,” he added.
Trump first made the comments that al-Baghdadi was “whimpering” and “crying” and “died like a coward” on October 27, but The Times was not able to corroborate those details with officials familiar with the military operation.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who monitored the raid in the Situation Room with Trump, told The Times he didn't know anything about al-Baghdadi “whimpering.” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also not aware of that detail, The Times said.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Central Command released footage of the operation. Business Insider's David Choi reported that during the raid that left al-Baghdadi dead, “no U.S. soldiers were killed during the operation, but a military working dog was injured by live electrical cables after al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest in a tunnel.”
Trump also mentioned the military dog during his Friday-night rally in Mississippi, joking that the dog (named Conan), got more positive press than he did following the raid.
Presidential historian Mark Updegrove, told The Times that he thinks Trump “has to continue to add to the inherent drama of the moment, not only bragging about the despot being brought to justice but happening in the most humiliating way.”
“He can't help himself,” Updegrove said of the president.
Al-Baghdadi, who was believed to have been 48 years old, died on October 26, during a raid by Delta Force commandos. He had assumed leadership of ISIS in 2010 after the death of two of his predecessors.
Read more from Business Insider:
- ISIS says it has a new leader less than a week after the U.S. raid that left al-Baghdadi dead
- New video shows Delta Force operators swarming ISIS leader al-Baghdadi's compound in Syria
- ISIS' brutal leader was killed by U.S. Delta Force soldiers. Here's how the elite raid on al-Baghdadi went down.
- Activist video purports to show moment of U.S. raid on al-Baghdadi ISIS compound. Photos show the wreckage left in its wake.
- Drone footage shows completely leveled compound where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died