Monday, February 13, 2017

Major Iraqi airstrike targeting ISIS leader al-Baghdadi kills 77.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

A major Iraqi airstrike targeting ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has killed 77 people, including senior ISIS leadership, in the city of Qaim. BBC. Baghdadi's fate is unclear. Iraq released a list of people killed in the airstrike but his name was not on the list. 13 other commanders of ISIS were on the list as well as 64 lower ranked ISIS fighters killed in the strikes. Baghdadi was rumored to be in the Iraqi town of Qaim to discuss a possible replacement for him if he were to die and the situation in Mosul. Baghdadi has been reported injured or killed many times in the past. 

My Comment:
Very surprised that it was the Iraqi's pulling off this raid instead of, well, anyone else. I wasn't even aware that the Iraqi Air Force even had the F-16's that they used in this raid. I knew they had a few SU-25's but I guess I just never heard about the sale of the F-16's. Still, they have 14 F-16's which is more than enough to pull off this raid. 

Still, that doesn't answer the question why the US government allowed the Iraqi's to attempt this raid instead of just doing it ourselves. The obvious explanation is that the Iraqi's simply didn't tell us that Baghdadi and his commanders were meeting in Qaim. I guess that is possible but it seems rather unlikely. It's also possible that it was a political descion made because Iraq wanted revenge on Baghdadi and wanted to be the ones that killed him, but that seems like a rather emotional response to an issue that has critical implications. 

If it was up to me I would have had US forces pull off this raid. We have a much more experienced Air Force and we have a lot of other assets, like drones and satellites, that the Iraqi's don't have. It seems to have worked out fine anyways, but I would have rather have our guys do this instead of the Iraqis. Plus it would be emotionally satisfying if we were the ones that killed him... I guess that response isn't just limited to the Iraqi's. 

It's very unclear to me if Baghdadi was even in Qaim. Indeed, Baghdadi has been so subject to rumors and false reports if he really does die at some point I probably won't believe it. My guess is that he wasn't at this meeting and was safely back home in Raqqa. The intel that said he was in Qaim was probably false. I just don't think he would risk going there at this point. He knows the whole world is gunning for him. I could very easily be wrong though. 

Still, even without Baghdadi's scalp (and who knows, maybe he was injured or killed), this was a very successful raid for the Iraqi's. Dropping a bomb on a major meeting of ISIS commanders has to be devastating for the group. It's part of a larger strategy against ISIS that has been very successful. Though ISIS is having problems recruiting even the lowest ranks of fighters, it's the commanders that are almost impossible to replace. 

When ISIS was first starting out in Iraq, they were greatly bolstered by several former regime officers. Those officers greatly helped ISIS in their campaigns there and were irreplaceable. Many of those men are now dead and there is zero chance of ISIS ever recruiting anyone of that caliber again. Every time ISIS loses a high ranking commander it's devastating. Any idiot can drive a car bomb, but only a good commander can tell him where to drive it where it will make the biggest impact. 

So what happens if Baghdadi does die? Good question. He's more of a figurehead than anything else so I don't expect it to have much of an impact. Though nobody in ISIS is really replaceable at this point, losing him wouldn't be the end of ISIS by any stretch. ISIS would take a huge morale hit though if he were to die. And it would be a huge blow to their credibility and the last vestiges of their mystique of invincibility, already damaged by their recent battlefield losses, would be gone. 

His days are numbered though, one way or the other. He's been extremely lucky and/or skilled to live this long but he's got most of the world gunning for him, including the two governments of the countries he is living in. And if it isn't the Syrians or Iraqis, it will be the Russians, the Turks, or the United States of America that gets lucky and kills him. It's only a matter of time, as the death of Osama Bin Laden proves...  

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