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Monday, October 28, 2019, 10:45
Al-Baghdadi's death not end to IS threat, experts say
By Xinhua
Monday, October 28, 2019, 10:45 By Xinhua

This file image made from video posted on a militant website on July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq during his first public appearance. The leader of the Islamic State militant network is believed dead after being targeted by a US military raid in Syria. A US official told The Associated Press Oct 26, 2019, that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was targeted in Syria’s Idlib province. (MILITANT VIDEO / AP)

WASHINGTON — US president Donald Trump said on Sunday Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed in a US military operation in Syria. As the Trump administration hailed the death of al-Baghdadi, some experts and former US officials warned that the fight against terrorism is far from over.

Speaking at the White House, Trump said US Special Operations Forces conducted a raid Saturday night targeting al-Baghdadi in northwestern Syria, during which al-Baghdadi killed himself by igniting a suicide vest.

Al-Baghdadi, 48, whose real name was Ibrahim Awad al-Badri, announced the establishment of a caliphate, or the so-called Islamic State, in June 2014.

Over the years, al-Baghdadi has been reported multiple times to have been killed, but none of the reports has been confirmed. In 2016, the US Department of State offered a reward of up to US$25 million for information leading to his capture or death.

"US Special Operations Forces executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid in northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style"

Donald Trump , US president

"US Special Operations Forces executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid in northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style," Trump said.

Trump noted in his remarks that no US personnel were killed in the operation, and the US military obtained "highly sensitive material and information" from the raid.

In his remarks, Trump also expressed his gratitude to Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Syrian Kurds, saying the mission could only have taken place with the help of other nations and people.

The death of al-Baghdadi could be a valuable political asset for Trump, who has drawn harsh criticism at home over his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria, in part because it was seen as raising the possibility of the resurgence of the IS.

This operation would allow Trump an opportunity to deny such criticism and take credit for the defeat of the IS, analysts said.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said in a tweet, "The irony of the successful operation against al-Baghdadi is that it could not have happened w/o (without) US forces on the ground that have been pulled out, help from Syrian Kurds who have been betrayed, and support of US intelligence community that has so often been disparaged."

US officials, to a certain extent, attested Haass' tweet. Citing one US official, The New York Times wrote in a Sunday piece that the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds provided more intelligence for the raid than any single country.


During an interview with CNN, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said that he did not know if the United States would have been able to carry out the helicopter raid against al-Baghdadi had American troops been completely withdrawn from Syria.

As the Trump administration called the military operation a great success, some experts and former US officials have downplayed the significance of al-Baghdadi's death, arguing that his death would not eliminate the threat of the group.

Michael Smith II, a terrorism analyst at Johns Hopkins University's Global Security Studies program, worried that the killing of al-Baghdadi by the US military might function as a recruitment tool for the IS.

Javed Ali, a former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council, noted that the death of Baghdadi would not lead to a strategic defeat of the IS, which has proved resilient despite its physical loss.

"That's something we learned in the aftermath of the bin Laden raid," he said.

Jennifer Cafarella, research director at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, also referred to the case of Osama bin Laden. She told The New York Times that al-Qaeda continued to expand globally even after the US military killed the founder and former leader of the terrorist group in 2011.

"Unfortunately, killing leaders does not defeat terrorist organizations," Cafarella said.

Hassan Hassan, a Middle East expert based at the Center for Global Policy, shared a similar view. He predicted that the IS would maintain its foreign affiliates largely intact, and the IS groups in Iraq and Syria would not be demoralized but instead reinvigorated.

ALSO READ: Trump announces grisly death of IS leader Baghdadi in US raid

James Jeffrey, US special envoy for Syria and the anti-ISIS coalition, acknowledged during a congressional hearing last week that more than 100 IS detainees had escaped in north Syria, where the Turkish military operations against the Syrian Kurdish forces took place recently.

Former US Vice President Joe Biden urged the United States to maintain the pressure against the terror group. "That task is particularly important as the chaos of the past few weeks in northern Syria has jeopardized years of hard work and sacrifice by American and Kurdish troops to evict ISIS from its strongholds in Syria," he said in a Sunday statement.

"We cannot afford to get distracted to take our eye off the target," he said.  

Muhammad al-Omari, a Syrian political expert, said that the death of al-Baghdadi could not have a big impact on the IS, noting that such groups could quickly find alternatives and could carry out swift revenge operations to grab headlines and draw in new sympathizers and members.

He said the group could expand the revenge operations beyond Syria and Iraq.

Omari said the death of al-Baghdadi could also cause a schism in the ranks of the IS and could cause the group to be fragmented into several formations.

However, it's unlikely that the group could carry out major hits as it has been largely defeated in Syria and Iraq and only sleeper cells are located in the Syrian desert and some areas in Idlib, where he was located and killed.

READ MORE: Baghdadi's aide was key to his capture-Iraqi intelligence teams

After the death of al-Baghdadi, it's expected the group could appoint one of two candidates either the Saudi IS member Abu Abdul Rahman Al-Jizrawi or the French Abu Othman, according to the pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV.

The TV said that the nature of the group's structure now and the scattering of its members could prolong the process of choosing a successor to al-Baghdadi but it's highly likely they will choose the Al-Jizrawi.   

It said al-Baghdadi was planning to revive the group in Idlib, given the state of lawlessness and decentralized rebel groups in that province, which is the last major rebel stronghold in Syria.

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