In a year that saw the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani at the hands of U.S. forces, President Donald Trump took time in his State of the Union address to do a victory lap, and pay tribute to Americans whose deaths they caused.
Al-Baghdadi died in an Oct. 26 raid at the terror leader's compound in Syria, an operation given a name that carried special significance, Trump said in his Tuesday night address. It was called "Task Force 8-14," by the Delta Force raiders who executed the mission, he said, a nod to the Aug. 14 birthday of Kayla Mueller, an American humanitarian aid worker who was taken captive by ISIS in 2013 at age 24, and murdered two years later.
Trump saluted his guests in the House chamber, Mueller's parents, Carl and Marsha.
"Kayla once wrote, 'Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.'" Trump said.
He added that Kayla Mueller had been kept as a prisoner of al-Baghdadi himself, suffering torture and other horrors at his hands.
"Three years ago, the barbarians of ISIS held over 20,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria," Trump said. "Today, the ISIS territorial caliphate has been 100 percent destroyed, and the founder and leader of ISIS -- the bloodthirsty killer known as Al‑Baghdadi -- is dead!"
Trump's remarks, however, were made on the heels of a Defense Department Inspector General report finding al-Baghdadi's killing had done little to disrupt the operations or command structure of ISIS in Syria, although the group has been unable of late to mount major attacks against U.S. and allied forces.
"Carl and Marsha, America's warriors never forgot Kayla -- and neither will we," Trump said.
Trump's speech came just a month after a drone strike killed Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport Jan. 3. The administration had taken an unprecedented step in April when it labeled Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which includes the Quds Force, a foreign terrorist organization. Many feared the Iranian general's assassination would drive the U.S. into a new war; but hostilities on both sides receded following a retaliatory Iranian missile strike on two air bases in Iraq that caused no troop fatalities.
Trump recognized Kelli and Gage Hake, the widow and 13-year-old son of Army Staff Sergeant Christopher Hake, killed in 2008 by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Soleimani was responsible for that attack, Trump said.
"On his second deployment to Iraq in 2008, Sergeant Hake wrote a letter to his 1-year-old son, Gage: 'I will be with you again,' he wrote to Gage," Trump said. "'I will teach you to ride your first bike, build your first sandbox, watch you play sports and see you have kids also. I love you son, take care of your mother. I am always with you. Daddy.'"
Hake "now rests in eternal glory" in Arlington National Cemetery, Trump said.
"Our message to the terrorists is clear: You will never escape American justice. If you attack our citizens, you forfeit your life!"
Trump again called on Iran to stop efforts to develop nuclear weapons, saying "powerful sanctions" had resulted in the nation's economy "doing very poorly."
"We can help them make it very good in a short period of time, but perhaps they are too proud or too foolish to ask for that help," he said. "We are here. Let's see which road they choose. It is totally up to them."
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.