US Military kills ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
November 9, 2019
On October 26, 2019, the United States military conducted a raid that killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. The attack was conducted at a compound that housed al-Baghdadi and his family in Idlib Governorate, Syria. The attack is being deemed as one of the biggest achievements of Donald Trump’s tenure.
In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump advocated for the destruction of ISIS and stabilization of the Middle East. It was a key campaign promise. However, there was major skepticism of whether the U.S. military would be able to kill al-Baghdadi due to President Trump’s isolationist policies and the reduction of U.S. troops in Syria. Regardless, the raid was a huge victory for both the United States military and President Trump’s persona in international politics. But there are important questions that must be answered regarding the successful U.S. raid and the future of ISIS and American policy.
First, who is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Baghdadi was born in Iraq to a powerful family in 1971. He studied Islamic law and the Quran at the University of Baghdad. Due to his poor high school grades and nearsightedness, Baghdadi was deemed unfit to serve in the Iraqi military during high school and post-secondary education. However, Baghdadi became involved with Saddam Hussein during the despot’s rule. It is also likely that he joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a young adult.
Additional evidence proves Baghdadi was a mosque cleric in 2003 during the U.S. intervention in Iraq. In 2006, Baghdadi joined the Islamic State of Iraq, otherwise known as the Iraq branch of al-Qaeda. He served in upper leadership roles and gained influence in the organization. In 2010, Baghdadi was announced as the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq. Three years after Baghdadi became leader, the Islamic State of Iraq announced the expansion of their group into ISIS. Baghdadi broke with al-Qaeda and became the Caliph of ISIS in 2013. During his rule, he oversaw the murder of millions of innocent civilians in the Middle East. He was labeled a terrorist by the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union.
Second, what happened during the U.S. raid? During the evening of October 26, 2019, U.S. Joint Special Forces, also called Delta Force, with assistance from NATO allies conducted the raid in northwestern Syria. U.S. forces were met with resistance from hostile militants surrounding the facility where Baghdadi and his family were located. Military helicopters were able to eliminate the militants without loss of U.S. or Allied troops.
It is unclear whether the militants were part of ISIS, but it is possible they were paid defenders of Baghdadi. During the raid, U.S. military canine units chased Baghdadi through tunnels in the compound. Baghdadi died by igniting his suicide vest. It was also reported that Baghdadi killed two of his children in the exposition. No U.S. troops were killed in the attack. Baghdadi’s remains were buried at sea, and the U.S. military destroyed the hideout where Baghdadi and his family were living. The bombing was a precaution taken by U.S. forces to ensure a shrine or memorial would not be set up in memory of Baghdadi.
Third, what does this mean for ISIS? A day after the death of al-Baghdadi, U.S. officials confirmed the death of former ISIS spokesperson and likely successor Abu Hassan al-Muhajir. Muhajir and four others were killed in an airstrike conducted by the U.S. military and special operations. Within the next week, the propaganda arm of ISIS announced the organization had elected a new leader. An audio message stated that Baghdadi’s successor is a man named Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi. Due to little data on al-Quraishi, the U.S. does not know major details about his past or involvement in ISIS. When the announcement was made, U.S. intelligence agencies had to start from scratch. Though this may seem like a disadvantage for the U.S. intelligence community and Armed Forces, it may also be a major setback for ISIS leadership.
Because there is little information on al-Quraishi, it is likely that militants and troops outside ISIS leadership circles are unaware of his presence. This may leave gaps in leadership. Baghdadi was a well-known figure who had significant power throughout the world. He had the ability to finance ISIS and expand its influence outside of the middle east. However, Baghdadi’s death comes at a pivotal period. With ISIS losing its last portion of territory in Syria, it is possible Baghdadi’s death could be a “nail in the coffin” of ISIS. However, there has been additional criticism toward the United States for pulling out of Syria. It is certain that ISIS will attempt to regain territory in Syria to establish a caliphate.
The mission has been and should have remained to ensure the Islamic State can not reconstitute.”
— Brett McCurk
Fourth, what does this mean for U.S. policy? It seems that the death of Baghdadi will only encourage Trump’s decision to withdraw troops for the middle east. Going forward, Trump’s plan is to sit back and let the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) control their ground while ISIS founders. However, expert writers like Brett McCurk, former top U.S. envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition, are appalled by the decision. McCurk says, “The mission has been and should have remained to ensure the Islamic State can not reconstitute.” In contrast, politicians like Senator Rand Paul have applauded Trump for his decision to exit the fight. His argument is that our troops on the ground are minimal. It would be irrational to keep them in Syria for a fight in which they have no stake. As a result, foreign policy going forward is unclear. However, it seems that Trump is interested in reducing American involvement in Syria, which may allow ISIS to regain power and control.
The death of Baghdadi is a major accomplishment for the United States and its allies. Baghdadi’s death marks a change in ISIS leadership that could make or break the organization’s future influence. With the reduction of U.S. troops in Syria, there are many unanswered questions that impact the future of the Middle East and foreign policy. However, one thing is certain about the death of Baghdadi: The world is a better place because of the excellent work and determination prompted by U.S. intelligence, military forces, and NATO allies.