A lingering question following the Sunday morning raid by US special forces resulting in the death of ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is how he was able to be positively identified so quickly after he detonated a suicide vest – killing himself and three of his children.
According to President Trump, “His body was mutilated by the blast. The tunnel had caved in on it. But test results gave certain immediate and totally positive identification. It was him.“
The White House confirmed, saying that a combination of DNA analysis and facial-recognition technology was used (Baghdadi’s head reportedly remained intact following the blast. That, and what was left of him, were reportedly buried at sea according to Islamic custom, according to Reuters).
The near-instant forensic analysis appears to be a dramatic demonstration of new capabilities U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) developed in part to address ambiguities that resulted from the commando raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.
Most importantly, a new, smaller and much faster DNA-reader that troops can haul into combat aboard their helicopters and use while the smoke from combat is still clearing. –Daily Beast
Conventional DNA testing, until recently, could take weeks at a laboratory – as dissolved organic samples are dissolved in reagent chemicals and separated from contaminants and waste materials until the DNA can be isolated.
Following the killing of Osama Bin Laden, however, the US DoD has worked hard to speed up DNA processing in order to quickly identify terrorist leaders whose bodies might not survive a swift commando attack.
Pentagon leaders wanted Special Operations Forces to be able to identify terrorists on the spot in the heady hours following a raid—no time-consuming shipments to DNA labs required.
In 2015, SOCOM officials revealed that commandos had begun using two new types of a small and portable DNA lab: the RapidHIT 200 from California-based IntegenX and the DNAscan from NetBIO in Massachusetts.
The two DNA-readers work like the bigger, traditional laboratory-based systems do, but with very small, precisely measured quantities of chemicals and a wireless connection to a DNA database. Both new readers weigh around 100 pounds and are the size of a copy machine, making them small enough to fit on a helicopter.
They both require just one, moderately trained operator. Use a cotton swab to soak up some spit or blood, slip the swab into a plastic sleeve, insert the sleeve into the machine and press a few buttons. Less than two hours later, the machine spits out a strip of paper listing any matches. –Daily Beast
So where did the US get Baghdadi’s DNA?
The Kurds – who were able to provide his underwear and a sample of his blood, according to NBC News’ Richard Engel, citing Kurdish SDF Commander in Chief Gen. Mazlum Abdi (who intitially said it was Baghdadi’s hair, not blood, and was later corrected by a Kurdish official).
According to Engel, a match was confirmed months ago.
In closing, it was a combination of cutting edge forensic technology, including facial recognition, and months-old DNA samples which allowed the US military to quickly ID Baghdadi – and then quickly chuck his remains into the ocean.