President Donald Trump, in announcing the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Sunday, thanked Russia before he thanked the Kurds.
The response from Trump’s new national security adviser, Robert O’Brien: Don’t read anything into it.
“I don’t think you should read into that,” O’Brien said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He applauded the president’s “courageous decision” and said the men and women in the armed forces and intelligence community “executed the mission flawlessly.”
“They had to fly over areas where there are significant anti-aircraft capability: The Syrians, the Turks, others. So I think we appreciated the fact that our helicopters, our planes weren’t molested,” O’Brien said.
After teasing a major announcement the day before, Trump confirmed reports Sunday that Baghdadi had died in a raid by U.S. special forces — using vivid and gory detail to describe the self-declared caliph’s final moments.
“The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread, terrified of the American forces bearing down on him,” Trump said.
The president later gave his acknowledgments: “I want to thank the nations of Russia, Syria, Turkey and Iraq, and I also want to thank the Syrian Kurds for certain support they were able to give us.“
Baghdadi’s death comes amid debate in Washington over Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, a move that allowed Turkey to invade the region. It’s also a move that many have called a betrayal of U.S.-allied Kurds who have been on the front lines of the fight against ISIS.
“The Kurds played an important role in the operation, and we are grateful for the Kurds and the [Syrian Democratic Forces] and our allies there,” O’Brien said on NBC.
Later in the interview, he added that Russia still presents a “great danger” to the U.S. But sometimes, O’Brien said, American interests “overlap” with Russian interests — and there is no reason the two countries shouldn’t work together in those cases.
“Let me just make it very clear: Russia is not an ally of the United States. The president doesn’t believe that, I don’t believe that.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine