BAGHDAD — The commander of the elite Iraqi Counterterrorism Service (CTS) says his men provided the U.S. with crucial information that led U.S. forces to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi — information that surfaced in June with the arrest of two people in al Baghdadi's inner circle.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Staff Gen. Talib Shaghati Mshari al Kenani said, "The momentum started four months ago up until this point where we had the information that directly led to the location of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi."
Speaking through a translator, Kenani said, "There were two [arrested] individuals. The first individual was involved in Baghdadi's movement and moving Baghdadi around, and the other individual was involved in the planning for Baghdadi, and then they had very detailed documented information about his whereabouts."
Kenani said one of the two individuals told them about several safe houses used by ISIS. The CTS pursued the information, arresting and interrogating other individuals as it went, and sharing information with the U.S. military. He said the U.S. even took part in some of the interrogations. "And then that led to the information of Baghdadi."
Kenani declined to provide more details about the individuals arrested. "One thing we have learned from the U.S. Special Operations is maintaining the secrecy and not sharing this information with individuals that are not directly involved or tied to the topic. Need to know basis."
Baghdadi died during a U.S. military raid in western Syria on Oct. 27. He blew himself up after being chased into a tunnel.
The CTS are Special Operations troops who cleared out some of the toughest areas once held by ISIS in Iraq.
Kenani said, "Since the beginning of this war in 2014 we have worked very closely in direct combat operations and intelligence sharing with the U.S. Special Operations and all the other intelligence agencies."
"It's very apparent that the CTS had a significant role since the beginning of the war against Daesh," he said, using the Arabic name for ISIS, and adding that his CTS forces took "significant casualties" while liberating cities from ISIS control.
Last week, the commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Gen. Mazloum Abdi, gave NBC News a detailed account of how he spent months running a spy inside ISIS who followed al Baghdadi as he moved from one safe house to another.
Mazloum did not identify the source, but Kurdish intelligence officials described him as an Arab who had many relatives in ISIS.
Mazloum said the informant’s main motivation was revenge.
“His relatives were subjected to harsh treatment by ISIS and he no longer believed in the future of ISIS," Mazloum said. "He wanted to take revenge on ISIS and al Baghdadi himself."
This ISIS spy memorized the locations and layouts of al Baghdadi’s safe houses and even stole samples of the world’s most wanted terrorist’s blood and clothing for DNA analysis, Mazloum said.