The US President is bragging fulsomely and giving gruesome details of the Special Ops mission that neutralized terrorist boss Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. But the IS leader has been reported as injured or dead many times before.
As Donald Trump described watching the death of Al-Baghdadi via a satellite link with his fellow military commanders, his boasting and name-calling seemed a little, I dunno, off. A bit too much with detail and with “frightened puppies” remarks.
According to one report from close to the events, The Donald was itching on Saturday night to tweet out the demise of Al Baghdadi, but Delta Force on the ground first needed to verify that they had their man. The aim was to prevent the president getting ahead of the facts before he hit ‘Send.’
Nevertheless, he could not help himself and sent a teaser – no other word for it – on Twitter on Saturday night, saying “Something very big has just happened!” before Sunday’s televised address to the nation, as officials scrambled to accurately identify the remains of the mutilated body lying in a collapsed, dead-end tunnel with three murdered children in Idlib, north-western Syria.
This was an episode that called for restraint, as it is not the first time the death of Al Baghdadi has been announced, only to be later proven wrong. The Guardian had him paralyzed with a severe spinal injury after an airstrike in April 2015, Syrian state TV reported him dead in June 2017, Iranian TV said he was “definitely dead” and the Russians claimed as much again, all in the same month.
In July 2017 he was pronounced dead once more, then alive and then, to clear the matter up, a year later, he emerged from obscurity with a new propaganda video.
So, while Trump described watching the fugitive “whimpering and crying and screaming all the way” to his death, why not just hold back a tick until we’re offered some more substantial information?
While we do not want to see the sort of televised barbarism that befell Muammar Ghaddafi or Saddam Hussein, some irrefutable proof, shared with the watching world, that the remains are those of Al Baghdadi, would be welcome.
And if he is definitely dead? Well, that is not necessarily the end of the problem. The concern in the international counterterrorism community is that the chaotic, smuggler-ridden territory that the US troops found themselves closing in on Al Baghdadi is actually Al Qaeda turf. Remember those guys?
Add to that fact that the latest incident happened hundreds of miles from where US intelligence believed the fugitive Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) leader was hiding. This begs the question: what was al Baghdadi doing there? Making cosy with other of his murderous pals as they plot together against the infidels? That possibility has to cause the rest of us some deep concerns.
This terrorist leader was nobody’s fool. So he must have been aware that western security forces would eventually close in on him and when they did, his sudden, violent death would most likely create the outcome of leaving a leadership vacuum.
As any cursory view of his early propaganda videos shows, Al Baghdadi was no natural leader, so he devolved leadership and delegated authority to regional lieutenants to keep the IS show on the road on multiple fronts.
That means we can now expect a power struggle among these wannabe head honchos for succession, along with the expected struggles to prove their credentials through increasingly violent attacks against their enemies. It will not be pleasant.
Like the snake that can still deliver a deadly bite after decapitation, Al Baghdadi’s legacy may prove to be catastrophic and Trump’s bragging that, under his direction as Commander-In-Chief, the IS caliphate has been “obliterated 100 percent” may prove premature.
We have to remember that, while Osama bin Laden and now Al Baghdadi might have been eliminated, these terrorist organisations are not so much about personalities but about an ideology.
That is what needs to be addressed more urgently than the political optics of a Call of Duty-style video stream to the White House Situation Room.
It was easy to miss, amid the unseemly boasting, the blessed irony that it was Kurdish intelligence officers in the region who pointed the US Special Operations forces with their attack dogs in the right direction.
And yes, that would be the same Kurds abandoned by withdrawing US forces a fortnight ago and left at the mercy of a Turkish military attack, resulting in dozens of dead and tens of thousands being displaced.
Luckily for POTUS, seems they are not holding a grudge over that particular betrayal.
By Damian Wilson