The complex heliborne raid occurring yesterday killed the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The long sought after terror leader’s death marks a milestone for the U.S. campaign to defeat the Islamic State, particularly at a time when the U.S. has precipitously drawn down its forces in Syria. What should we make of al-Baghdadi’s death?
The death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may be a bigger victory for the U.S. than the defeat of the Islamic State. Killing the Islamic State’s leader obviously offers a hard-won victory for the U.S. coalition which has chased the elusive leader for years. There had been more than a dozen claims of his demise in previous years and this decisive action will finally bring a close to this elusive terrorist leader’s legend.
But 18 years into the War on Terror, things have changed in terrorist circles. al-Baghdadi never reached the status of a Bin Laden, even though his terror group arguably achieved more than its forefather al Qaeda by declaring – and momentarily achieving – a caliphate. al-Baghdadi’s public presence has always been limited, as he was not particularly charismatic and in recent years had rarely been seen or heard from. Moreover, coalition pressure on the Islamic State allowed rival group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to gain in strength and in, recent times, outshine the Islamic State.