By Ellyn Fritz || Contributing Writer
Abū Bakr Al-Baghdadi was the world’s most wanted terrorist chieftain, with a target of a twenty-five million dollar bounty offered by the American government. The Central Intelligence Agency and Special Operations commandos were zeroing in on a location for Al-Baghdadi when President Trump ordered American troops out of Syria earlier this month, forcing Pentagon officials to speed up their plan for a risky night raid.
The planning for the raid began this past summer when the C.I.A. found surprising information about the general location of Al-Baghdadi in a village deep inside a part of Northwest Syria. From there, the C.I.A worked closely with Iraqi and Kurdish intelligence officials in Iraq and Syria to identify more precisely Mr. al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts. Even after Trump removed American troops from Syria, the Kurds continued to provide the C.I.A. with information about Al-Baghdadi’s location.
The Army’s Delta Force commando unit began drawing up plans for the raid and rehearsing plans to conduct the dangerous mission to kill or capture the ISIS leader deep inside territory controlled by Al Qaeda. After the military called off the mission at least twice, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper claimed on ABC’s This Week, Mr. Trump “gave us the green light to proceed” in the days leading up to Al-Baghdadi’s death.
Eight American helicopters took off around midnight on October 27, flying 70 minutes towards the location of Al-Baghdadi. The helicopters and other warplanes then initiated firing on a compound of buildings before landing, providing cover for commandos with the Delta Force and their military dogs to descend into a landing zone. As the Delta Force commandos entered and addressed the scene at hand, Al-Baghdadi fled into an underground escape tunnel, taking three children with him to, presumably, use as human shields against American fire. It was then that Al-Baghdadi detonated his suicide vest, killing himself, two children under the age of 12, and injuring an American military dog named Conon who cornered the Islamic State’s leader in the dead-end tunnel.
Though Syria has had a history of tremendous violence and upheaval, the Islamic State brought a new form of daily terror to the lives of civilians within the territory of ISIS. Women were beaten for not covering their faces fully and men were detained and flogged for not growing their beards long enough by the religious morality police who patrolled the streets. This fall, mass graves discovered to the so-called caliphate bluntly testify to the mass executions that took place.
For the victims of the terrorist organization’s brutality, the death of Al-Baghdadi will not be mourned. As seen in The New York Times, for Hussam Hammoud, 27, an activist from Raqqa, the onetime capital of the Islamic State, Al-Baghdadi’s death was a reminder of the suffering inflicted onto those who were forced to live under his uncompromising and extremist movement. “The victims of this organization are all over the place,” said Mr. Hammoud, who said that he fled to Turkey because the Syrian Army, which was his original enemy, was now advancing toward him. “We are happy that he was killed, but we do not think our misery will end because of that.”
For ISIS, “This is a devastating blow. This is not just their leader, it’s their founder. He was an inspirational leader in many ways. He formed ISIS in 2014, he led to establishing the physical caliphate throughout the region, so this is a major blow to them,” Esper told Jake Tapper Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” ISIS did not lose much operational capacity with the death of Al-Baghdadi, but they did lose their symbolic figurehead whose role was to rally people around the world to join ISIS.
After the loss of territory in Iraq and Syria, along with the presence of Anti-ISIS coalition forces in that area, it will be nearly impossible for ISIS to reestablish themselves within that region; however, they are now looking to increase their presence in places like eastern Afghanistan and the southern desert of Libya.
Al-Baghdadi’s death also came at a time when he was being hosted by hardline al-Qaida groups in Syria. Although in the past years, al-Qaida and ISIS have had a fierce rivalry and fought politically, the groups share similarly conservative ideologies. The death of Baghdadi is likely to turn some of the groups that have flown the ISIS flag towards al-Qaida onto the perspective that consolidating, rather than competing, is the best way forward.
Sophomore Ellyn Fritz is a contributing writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.