October 27, 2019 / 3:04 PM / a month ago

Secret U.S. raid sought to capture Baghdadi: U.S. defense secretary

U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (2nd L), U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (3rd R), along with members of the national security team, watch as U.S. Special Operations forces close in on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 26, 2019. Picture taken October 26, 2019. Shealah Craighead/The White House/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. special operations raid into northwest Syria sought to capture Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi if possible, but kill him if necessary, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday.

“We tried to call (Baghdadi) out and ask him to surrender himself. He refused and went down into a subterranean area and in the process of trying to get him out, he detonated a suicide vest, we believe, and killed himself,” Esper told CNN.

Esper said two U.S. forces suffered minor injuries during the operation but have already returned to duty.

He said Trump authorized the operation late last week.

“The president was taking options earlier (last) week ... (He) chose the option that we thought gave us the highest probability of success,” Esper said.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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