Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the notorious chief of dreaded global jihadi terrorist organisation Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIS) is finally dead. In a daring night raid at his hide out north of Idlib, in the rival held territory, close to the Turkish Border he was finally eliminated by the Delta Force (special forces of USA) warriors on the eventful night of 26th November. Baghdadi’s first public appearance was reported in 2014 in Mosul. A widely circulated video filmed in a mosque in Mosul showed Baghdadi declaring himself as the Caliph of Islamic State, Caliph Ibrahim, and called on Muslims worldwide to support him and owe their allegiance to him.
The ISIS was renamed as Islamic State (IS). In an audio-taped message, al-Baghdadi announced that ISIL would march on “Rome” – generally interpreted to mean the West – in its quest to establish an Islamic State from the Middle East across Europe. He said that he would conquer both Rome and Spain in this endeavour and urged Muslims across the world to immigrate to the new Islamic State. Later in another audio tape issued in many Indian languages as well he mentioned about Gazwa-e-Hind as well.
The idea of an Islamic State was a big hit among the fanatic and hordes of foreign fighters from different parts of the world including Europe bee-lined to join the ranks of ISIS and fulfil their dream of a Caliphate. Baghdadi was a crude, merciless leader but a great motivator and an icon. He filled the vacuum created by collapse of Al Qaeda after elimination of Osama Bin Laden in another daring operation by the US Special Forces deep inside Pakistan, a US ally in war on terror. He continued to remain the unchallenged major face of global terror till emergence of rival jihadi group Hayat Tahrir al –Sham led by his one- time associate Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, who went on to build Al Qaeda’s Syria branch, Nusra Front.
Baghdadi was reported to be killed in an aerial attack in Mosul in November 2014, but later it emerged that he was only injured. Hereafter, there were about dozen rumours of his death. Every time he would emerge through audio tapes issuing personal instructions to his fighters and egging them n to continue the jihad or Islamic State. His last live video was released on 29 April 2019 his first public appearance for almost five years.
In the video, al-Baghdadi was shown with an assault rifle mentioning recent events such as the loss of the last ISIS territory in Baghuz Fawqani, the Sri Lanka Easter bombings and the overthrow of Sudanese and Algerian presidents Omar al-Bashir and Abdelaziz Bouteflika, suggesting that the video was filmed around a week before being released.
He ultimately met the same fate which all terrorists, ordinary fighter to top most commanders, are destined to meet, death at the hand of determined counter terror forces. 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. It is also a big achievement for the global fight against jihadi terrorism, particularly for India which continues to be a victim of this menace. “As you sow so shall you reap,” aptly holds good in case of terrorists.
Baghdadi had given a barbaric face to terror. His notoriety included genocide of Yazidis in Iraq, organised rapes, extensive sex slavery, floggings, mass crucifixions, and executions via hacking, stoning and burning. His victims included people of different ages, sex, educated and innocent. His killing therefore, which is final and confirmed this time after a successful DNA test, has been welcome the world over with much rejoice and sense of relief.
The double-whammy scored by the US counter-terror forces by killing, the closest confidant and virtual number two of Baghdadi, and ISIS spokesperson Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir in Syria the next day. The US has eliminated the think –tank and ideologues of the ISIS in a back-to-back operation in Syria.
Unlike, Al Qaeda, there is not going to be a succession war in the ISIS since Baghdadi had announced his successor in August this year itself. He is an ex-member of Saddam’s Iraqi Army and is known as Abdullah Qardash. Will he be able to fit in the shoes of Baghdadi is doubtful since ISIS has already lost much of its sting with the idea of a Caliph becoming a distant dream and its fighters scattered in different parts of the world. Even, the much-acclaimed communication and propaganda network of the ISIS has faded in the past after it was thrown out of Iraq and Syria.
The death of Baghdadi is certainly going to affect the morale of ISIS fighters and its affiliates. However, the group’s notorious capability of ordering and organising bloodshed across the globe may not be entirely degraded since it has vast pool of indoctrinated and battle-hardened fighters acting as sleeper cells globally.
It would to some extent facilitate the US forces deployed in Afghanistan since a large number of ISIS fighters had assembled in Afghanistan and proving a headache for the US troops. The double-whammy scored by the US in Syria would definitely impact the ISIS in Afghanistan.
Closer home, the killing should ring definite alarm bells in Pakistan and put the fear of life in Pak-sheltered global jihadi terrorists like Hafiz Saeed, Azhar Masood and Syed Salahuddin. India is gradually inching towards them. They have to realise that no hideout is safe when the counter-terror forces decide to eliminate the high profile terrorists, in any case, they are no match to Osama Bin Laden and Baghdadi, who were tracked and killed in territories least expected.
High-value targeting not only helps to eliminate top leadership but also forces them deeper underground does impeding their capability o directly influence and motivate its cadre. Once the trio realises that they are being targeted by India, there ability of free movement in Pakistan and POJK would be severely hampered. India has already raised a tri-service command of Special Forces and is also acquired/acquiring the necessary systems and weapon platforms to carry out such strikes. It is a matter of time.
The operation conducted by US Delta Force has many pluses to its credit and can easily be termed as an outstanding operation since it involved not only perfect and meticulous planning, it also needed equally daring and professional execution. The most outstanding achievement of the operation is pinpoint intelligence to the extent that Baghdadi always wore a suicide vest.
This input helped the American planners save the lives of the combatants by grouping military dogs in the task force. The final chase inside the tunnel was done by the specially trained Dogs. Had the soldiers being chasing the impact of suicide blast would have resulted in large scale causalities among the commandos. In its pursuit of capability building for these type of operations, India needs to develop the capability of intelligence acquisition of such a level.
There is unlikely to be any large scale reprisal as it didn’t happen after Osama was eliminated and more recently his son Hamza was killed. The world should be prepared but not panic. The killing of Baghdadi is a final certainty this time and what would emerge from its ashes is the question bothering now. Baghdadi’s death will certainly be a big blow to global Islamic extremism, but those espousing extremism will still remain active and will not easily change their mind.
Those who were committed to violence yesterday will remain committed to violence today. ISIS trained and indoctrinated foreign terrorists will be the face of jihadi terror in the future. The affiliates and sympathisers of both ISIS and Al Qaeda will continue to keep the flame burning of jihadi terror world-wide. With the fighters scattered, the re-emergence of a Caliph is quite unlikely. Homegrown terrorists, ‘Lone Wolf’ attacks and mass-shootouts will continue to pose a threat to global peace.
The killing of Hamza Laden and Baghdadi in quick succession is definitely a strategic blow to Islamic extremism but certainly not an end of it.
(Brig Anil Gupta)