United States President Donald Trump has received his fair share of criticism over his handling of the Syrian Kurds, the erstwhile allies who helped end the barbaric regime of Daesh. The daring operation by US special forces last week that has resulted in the death of Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi will have gone some way to restoring the President’s domestic and international standing.
It was not just Trump’s Democratic opponents who took issue with the decision to remove US forces from northern Syria earlier last month, thereby allowing the Turks to commence their military offensive against Kurdish groups based in the area.
Senior Republicans, too, were aghast at Trump’s abandonment of Washington’s allies, as well as his suggestion that the US was ending its military commitment in Syria, with all the implications that might have for the ongoing campaign against Islamist terror groups in the region.
The elimination of Baghdadi, therefore, is a significant achievement for the US president, demonstrating that, despite his determination to reduce US military involvement in the Middle East, he remains totally committed to the enduring campaign to destroy terror groups like Daesh.
For the daring mission that resulted in Baghdadi’s death after he detonated a suicide vest packed with explosives undoubtedly amounts to the most successful counterterrorism operation of the Trump administration — on a par with the similar US Special Forces raid on Al Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011.
Trump and his national security team deserve great credit for authorising a mission that required US forces to penetrate deep into hostile territory in north-west Syria, an area well beyond their normal area of operations, where a variety of militant groups are known to be based.
‘Top national security priority’
Later speaking at a televised press conference at the White House, Trump reminded his audience that capturing or killing Al Baghdadi had been “the top national security priority of my administration”.
He re-emphasised that, though determined to withdraw US forces from the region, he had no intention of abandoning “our total and enduring commitment” to defeating terrorists like Al Baghdadi who, as the US president put it in his inimitable style, “died like a dog ... screaming and crying and scared out of his mind”.
Americans will celebrate the demise of Daesh leader who presided over the beheadings of US hostages, such as the journalist James Foley, as well as the horrific murder of the captured Jordanian fighter pilot, who was burnt alive in a cage.
Al Baghdadi’s demise deals a significant blow to Daesh. The terrorist’s charismatic performances were said to be instrumental in persuading naive young to join Daesh’s ranks.
Concerns remain, though, about the ability of organisations like Daesh to regroup and find new ways of maintaining their terrorist campaigns, and US intelligence experts will be closely examining the cache of material that was recovered from Baghdadi’s hideout in Idlib province, close to the Turkish border in north-west Syria.
One of their first tasks will be to work out why Al Baghdadi, previously reported to be hiding in eastern Syria, was located in an area so close to the Turkish border, which is a known base for Al Qaida.
Al Baghdadi fell out with the Al Qaida leadership when he set up his more violent movement called Daesh. And the fact that he met his end in territory controlled by his former rivals might suggest there has been a rapprochement between the two terror groups.
Investigators will also be keen to learn more about Daesh’s operational structure. Al Baghdadi’s main achievement was to establish his so-called caliphate, and since its demise earlier this year, Daesh has been busy trying to rebuild its terrorist infrastructure.
As Trump made clear, while his administration wants to reduce America’s military presence in the region, it is still intent on tackling groups like Daesh, which constitute a direct threat to the well-being of American citizens. With Al Baghdadi out of the picture, the White House will be keen to find out if Daesh can continue to flourish in the absence of its brutal leader.
— The Telegraph Group Ltd, London 2019
Con Coughlin is a noted political columnist who specialises in the Middle East.