ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Injured in U.S. Air Strikes, Iraqi Officials Claim
Over the last few months, the U.S. has ratcheted up military efforts against the Islamic militant group ISIS in a big way. Whether engaging in airstrikes to push them out of key points of infrastructure like the Mosul Dam in Iraq, or targeting convoys to try to destabilize the terrorist organization, the fighting has been ongoing. And now, there are reports that the biggest target of all may have been struck: Iraqi defense minister Khaled al-Abadi has claimed that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was injured by American airstrikes Friday night, the first such reports of an actual brush between al-Baghdadi and U.S. forces.
Not much is known about the background of al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed Caliph of the new Islamic State — he's believed to be in his early forties, and ascended to the top of ISIS back in 2010, but the vast majority of his personal biography is unclear. What's transparently clear, however, is the authority he asserts worldwide — ISIS' vision of a Caliphate, with al-Baghdadi sitting at the top, is one which all Muslims would be forced to recognize if the group had its way.
In short, they've cut a fantastically bloody course through Iraq and Syria, killing Muslims, Christians and non-believers alike. They've also notably released multiple videos of grisly hostage executions, including those of Americans Steven Sotloff and James Foley.
As always, caution is important. The U.S. hasn't confirmed these reports just yet, as Colonel Pat Ryder of CENTCOM told Fox News on Sunday, saying "We have no information to corroborate press reports that ISIL leader al-Baghdadi has been injured." On Saturday, Ryder did acknowledge that the airstrikes had gone down, however, hitting targets near Mosul.
I can confirm that coalition aircraft did conduct a series of air strikes yesterday evening in Iraq against what was assessed to be a gathering of ISIL leaders near Mosul. We cannot confirm if ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was among those present.
Hopefully the situation will become clearer in the coming days — reports of al-Baghdadi's injury have been cited by multiple news outlets, including Israeli papers Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, British paper The Guardian, and Time, but until there's official word on the matter, it's best not to get too ahead of things. And it's also important not to assume that al-Baghdadi being injured, or even being killed, means that ISIS will fall apart.
The feeling of futility that sometimes comes with large-scale military battles against far-flung terrorist organizations comes from the ability of these groups to restructure and destabilize themselves, even when a leader dies — as demonstrated by the example of al-Qaeda and leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, for example, who's been in command long after the death of Osama bin Laden. Basically, whether al-Baghdadi is in charge or not, ISIS will likely remain a worrying and potent force in the region, and one which the U.S. won't be done engaging with.