February 7, 2022

IS Leader Killed

The leader of the jihadist group Islamic State died in a U.S. special forces raid in northern Syria on Thursday when he detonated a bomb that killed him and family members… Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby earlier described Thursday's raid as a successful counter-terrorism mission, saying there were no U.S. casualties. Syrian rescue workers said at least 13 people including six children and four women were killed by clashes and explosions that erupted after the raid began.” Reuters

Many on both sides praise the raid but caution that the Islamic State remains a threat, and urge the administration to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat terrorism:

“Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the subject of a $10 million U.S. bounty, had been active in the Islamic State for years and advocated the enslavement of women from the ethnic Yazidi minority when the terrorist group controlled a swath of Iraqi and Syrian territory. As the hand-picked successor of the group’s previous boss, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Mr. Qurayshi was operating undercover in Syria’s rebel-controlled Idlib province, attempting to reconstruct the group with an eye toward once again seizing territory. The world is a better place without him, and the Islamic State, at least temporarily, is a weakened organization…

“To those measures of success we would add a third: Apparently, U.S. personnel completed the raid with few civilian casualties. Indeed, it seems that Mr. Qurayshi died at his own hand, detonating a bomb rather than fighting Americans — or surrendering to them — and killing much of his family. Mr. Baghdadi similarly killed himself and others as U.S. troops closed in on him during a raid in 2019. Eyewitness reports confirmed official U.S. reports that civilians were warned to exit the targeted building and that some were escorted to safety by U.S. troops. This would represent a courageous effort to protect innocent life — even at the risk to American lives — and, as such, a welcome change from the disastrous U.S. drone strike on a supposed terrorist in Kabul last August, which killed 10 civilians.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

The world is now a slightly better place, and the lessons of the successful operation are worth recounting… One lesson is the importance of maintaining the forward deployment of U.S. counterterror forces. Donald Trump came close to withdrawing from Syria—and it’s fortunate he changed his mind. As of last month some 900 U.S. troops were stationed in Syria with another 2,500 in Iraq…

“Another lesson is the benefit of local allies on the ground. U.S. officials praised the Syrian Democratic Forces as ‘critical, vital enablers for operations like this.’ That probably included intelligence from months of searching for and then monitoring Hajji Abdullah at his safe house. We wish we now had such allies against ISIS and al Qaeda in Afghanistan… The temptation is to say the war against radical Islam is unwinnable so why keep fighting it? But by keeping jihadists on defense abroad, we reduce their ability to plot attacks against the U.S. homeland. We know what can happen when the plotters feel unthreatened.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“The Islamic State today—having been driven out of Mosul, Raqqa, and just about everywhere else—is a shell of what it was seven or eight years ago. But it’s far from stamped out. On January 21, ISIS fighters laid siege to a prison in Syria holding thousands of their fellow combatants, resulting in hundreds of ISIS and Kurdish deaths and requiring some of the 900 or so U.S. troops stationed in Syria to intervene. In early December, the militant group reportedly killed seven Kurdish security force members and three civilians in a small Iraqi town in early December…

“Al-Qurayshi’s death will likely put a damper on the group’s recent momentum—particularly its recruiting efforts—but a new leader could have things back up and running in short order, just as al-Qurayshi was able to do following al-Baghdadi’s early demise. ‘It is a game of whack-a-mole, and we don’t whack the moles fast enough for it to make a difference,’ [senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Bill] Roggio said. ‘We kill a leader here, we kill a leader there; six months in between, eight months. We don’t kill ISIS leaders fast enough and in big enough numbers to create a leadership void in the group that causes it to collapse.’”
Dispatch Staff, The Dispatch

“Perhaps the biggest surprise was that al-Qurayshi was hiding in Idlib province, the same place Baghdadi was found two years ago. Idlib, and northwestern Syria more broadly, is a stronghold of groups that oppose ISIS, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Din. That al-Qurayshi sought refuge in such a highly contested corner of Syria may suggest that ISIS’ geographic reach is greater than many analysts previously believed, stretching beyond its current stronghold in Badia in the central Syrian desert and the small villages and towns dotting northeastern Syria, where ISIS launched a series of prison breaks last week…

“Taking out a terrorist group’s top leaders one after another can definitely be effective in preventing it from mounting a comeback. However, decapitation strikes are no substitute for a more comprehensive strategy, which also requires disrupting a group’s logistical networks, revenue-generating activities and recruitment pipelines. Given the pared-down U.S. presence, American allies have mostly been the ones doing these tasks — notably, the Syrian Democratic Forces and Iraqi security forces. There is little doubt that al-Qurayshi’s death will hamper ISIS in the short term. However, it won’t dismantle the organization in any meaningful way.”
Colin P. Clarke, Politico

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