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A view of what is believed to have been the raid site. Photo: Omar Hag Kadour/AFP via Getty Images

To kill Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — arguably the most important national security accomplishment of the Trump presidency, along with wiping out ISIS' caliphate — the U.S. relied on many tools President Trump has spurned.

Why it matters: Trump has said President George W. Bush's Middle East invasion was the greatest mistake in American history. Trump says he wants to end endless wars, and bring troops home from Syria — but events keep pulling him back.

  • The raid's planners needed a U.S. ground presence in Iraq, where the mission launched and returned.
  • They depended on intelligence from Kurdish partners on the ground.
  • And they needed America’s engagement on the ground in Syria for intel and situational awareness.

The N.Y. Times reports that Trump’s abrupt order three weeks ago for the U.S. withdrawal from Syria "disrupted the meticulous planning underway and forced Pentagon officials to speed up the plan for the risky night raid before their ability to control troops, spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared."

  • The bottom line: Trump chose the option that took out the leader of ISIS, who inspired thousands of terrorists in dozens of countries.

In an interview with Swan that aired last night on "Axios on HBO," Iraqi President Barham Salih — long known as a pro-American leader — warned that the U.S. withdrawal from Syria could increase the danger of an ISIS resurgence.

  • The nearly hour-long interview was conducted last Monday, in one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces.
  • Salih says he is no longer sure he can rely on the U.S. as an ally — and may be ready to "recalibrate" Iraq's relationship with other countries, including Iran and Russia.
  • Salih also said he was "worried" about war breaking out between the U.S. and Iran — and said Iraq can't afford to pick sides in such a war.

Brett McGurk — who served under President George W. Bush as senior director for Iraq and Afghanistan, and Presidents Obama and Trump as special envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS — writes for WaPo:

  • "Trump deserves full credit for approving the operation that led to Baghdadi’s demise. It’s a shame the information that led to the raid apparently did not come to him before the tragic decision to abruptly pull U.S. Special Forces from much of northeastern Syria."
  • 🥊 "Because everything we already know about the raid reinforces just how valuable, unique and hard-fought the small and sustainable American presence there had been."

What's next ... David E. Sanger writes in the N.Y. Times: "[W]hile the raid achieved its goal, it did little to resolve the question of whether Mr. Trump’s instinct for disengagement will create room for new strains of violent radicalism that he and his successors will be forced to clean up."

Go deeper: Iraq's president reveals Trump fears; warns of war, ethnic cleansing

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

Maximum pressure campaign escalates with Fakhrizadeh killing

Photo: Fars News Agency via AP

The assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program, is a new height in the maximum pressure campaign led by the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government against Iran.

Why it matters: It exceeds the capture of the Iranian nuclear archives by the Mossad, and the sabotage in the advanced centrifuge facility in Natanz.

Scoop: Biden weighs retired General Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star General Lloyd Austin as his nominee for defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York COVID restrictions.
  3. World: Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.
  4. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in December Black Friday shopping across the U.S., in photosAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.