President Obama said this weekend that his decision to send another 1,500 U.S. troops to Iraq “signals a new phase” in the fight against ISIS. “Rather than just try to halt ISIL’s momentum, we’re now in a position to start going on some offense,” he told CBS News. Right on cue, reports have emerged that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, was wounded or even killed in an air strike conducted on Saturday. Coalition forces hit a house near Qaim where 30 leaders of the extremist group were meeting, and Iraq’s Defense and Interior ministries say that al-Baghdadi was among those wounded.
Many of those targeted in the attack were killed, but Sunni tribal leaders supporting ISIS said al-Baghdadi was alive. Sabah Karhout, head of the Anbar provincial council, told Bloomberg News that the leader was taken to the Syrian city of al-Raqqa for medical treatment. American officials said they’re still assessing the reports.
Al-Baghdadi’s demise would be a significant milestone in the fight against ISIS. He has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head and is responsible for transforming ISIS from a local Al Qaeda branch into an independent organization that controls large parts of Syria and Iraq and is so brutal even Al Qaeda wants no part of it.
However, it’s possible that his death would have minimal impact if someone else is ready to take control of ISIS. “If there is a functioning and competent chain of command, then the death or incapacitation of Baghdadi and other senior leaders could be a blip,” said Fred Hof, a former special representative on Syria for the State Department who now works for the Atlantic Council. “An important one, but a blip nonetheless.”