ISIS Concerns Remain After Trump Announces Leader’s Death
- President Donald Trump announced that U.S. special operations forces killed the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
- While Baghdadi’s death is generally viewed as a symbolic hit for ISIS, many experts are worried it will not impact the group’s operations.
- The leader’s death also comes as Trump has moved to withdraw U.S. troops from Northern Syria, prompting concerns of an ISIS resurgence in the region.
President Donald Trump announced Sunday that United States forces had killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,
“Last night the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead. He was the founder and leader of ISIS, the most ruthless and violent terror organization anywhere in the world,” Trump said speaking at a press conference.
“U.S. special operations forces executed a dangerous and daring nighttime raid in northwestern Syria and accomplished their mission in grand style,” he continued.
“The U.S. personnel were incredible. I got to watch much of it. No personnel were lost in the operation, while a large number of Baghdadi’s fighters and companions were killed with him.”
Trump went on to say that Baghdadi died by exploding a suicide vest after he was cornered in a dead-end tunnel, also killing three of his children.
“Baghdadi’s demise demonstrates America’s relentless pursuit of terrorist leaders and our commitment to the enduring and total defeat of ISIS and other terrorist organizations. Our reach is very long,” the president added.
While Trump’s announcement is certainly significant, Baghdadi’s death has left many wondering: what does this mean for ISIS?
Implications for ISIS in Northern Syria
There are a couple of key issues at play here. First, and perhaps the most relevant geopolitical question, is the situation in Northern Syria.
Several weeks ago, the White House announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing troops from Northern Syria and stepping aside to let Turkey launch a military operation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed the operation was necessary to clear Syrian Kurdish groups Turkey considers terrorists, and that the U.S. considers key allies who have done the majority of fighting against ISIS on the ground.
Many world leaders and politicians in the U.S., including some of Trump’s biggest supporters, condemned the move. They argued that not only was the U.S. abandoning an ally but that the move also could lead to a resurgence of ISIS in the region for two reasons.
First of all, with U.S. forces gone and Syrian Kurdish forces busy fighting a military attack from Turkey, ISIS could feel emboldened to attack and take over areas of Syria that the U.S. and the Kurds had fought to reclaim.
Second, Syrian Kurdish forces who had been guarding camps holding tens of thousands of captured ISIS fighters and their families would be short-staffed, again because many of them would have to shift to fight the Turkish invasion, making it easy for the captured fighters and their families to break out of the camps.
Already there have been reports that ISIS prisoners have broken free from the camps.
Although there are conflicting reports of how many exactly have escaped, last week, U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey said in a testimony before the Senate that “over 100” ISIS militants had escaped, and that it was unclear where they were.
Even though Turkey and Syria agreed to a ceasefire last week, Kurdish forces on the ground guarding the prisons have said that they are still understaffed. As one guard told The Washington Post, “Half of our guards were transferred to the front line.”
With the U.S. withdrawing forces in Northern Syria, the power vacuum that they have created has been filled by the Syrian government and Russia, who the Kurdish forces have allied with for military and tactical support.
While the Trump administration has generally supported this move, many experts have argued that Russia and Syria do not have the ability to organize and command the same kind of coalition that the U.S. did to drive ISIS out of the region.
In short, if ISIS were to reemerge, those actors would not be equipt to deal with it.
“There is nobody else in the area that we’re talking about right now,” William Wechsler, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism told the Post.
Wechsler also added that if there were anyone in the area who had the ability to counter ISIS, “ISIS would not have emerged in the first place.”
Will Bahgdadi’s Death Hurt ISIS?
Another big question for the future of ISIS is how much the loss of their leader will impact them.
While many have said this is certainly a huge symbolic blow for the organization, a lot of experts have basically argued that the net impact will not really hurt ISIS.
“When you think about the impact it will have on ISIS going forward, this is more like the close of a chapter, but by no means the end of the story,” Nick Rasmussen, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center told the Post.
Others have also pointed out that Baghdadi was obsessed with security and keeping himself safe, and as a result, he gave ISIS a lot of power to act on their own.
In fact, American and Iraqi officials told The New York Times that the elusive leader largely limited his communications with the outside world, meaning ISIS mostly operated with little leadership on his part.
“Baghdadi was a figurehead. He was not involved in operations or day-to-day,” one anonymous regional intelligence officer told Newsweek. “All Baghdadi did was say yes or no—no planning.”
Sam Heller, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group also told reporters that the autonomy of ISIS agents under Baghdadi prompted the group to become much more decentralized in both decision-making and financing, especially in Syria and Iraq.
Some have also pointed out that U.S. covert action against Islamist extremists have killed a number of militant leaders and the groups still lived on.
“In the annals of modern counterterrorism so far, what history has shown is these types of strikes do not lead to the strategic collapse or organizational defeat of a terrorism organization,” Javed Ali, a former White House counterterrorism director told the Post.
Other analysts and experts have even said that Baghdadi’s death could embolden ISIS cells to re-invent themselves, grow in recruits, or even band together to make bigger cells.
As the Times noted, two successors were killed before Baghdadi became the leader of ISIS, significantly expanding the group’s influence and reach.
“In the face of the kind of pressure and the mutual threats that they’ve experienced, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more cooperation, even if it doesn’t mean a public alliance,” Tricia Burton, a former State Department counterterrorism official told the Post.
Others, however, have been more optimistic about ISIS’s inability to re-group following Baghdadi’s death.
“Their recovery has been very slow, their organization is fragile and the killing of Baghdadi is bad timing for them,” Hassan Hassan of the Center for Global Policy said. “Even though they have likely prepared for this moment, it will be hard for them to ensure the organization remains intact.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
95-Year-Old Woman Dies After Police Tases Her in Nursing Home
The officer involved was suspended with pay and charged with assault.
A 95-year-old Australian woman whom police tasered in a nursing home last week has reportedly died from her injuries.
Clare Nowland, who had dementia and required a walking frame to stand up and move, was living at the Yallambee Lodge in Cooma in southeastern Australia.
At about 4:15 a.m. on May 17, police and paramedics responded to a report of a woman standing outside her room with a steak knife.
They encountered Nowland, then reportedly tried to negotiate with her for several minutes, but she didn’t drop the knife.
The five-foot-two, 95-pound woman walked toward the two officers “at a slow pace,” police said at a news conference, so one of them tasered her.
She fell to the floor and reportedly suffered a fractured skull and a severe brain bleed, causing her to be hospitalized in critical condition.
Nowland passed away in a hospital surrounded by her family, the New South Wales police confirmed in a statement today.
After a week-long investigation, the police force also said that the senior constable involved would appear in court next week to face charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.
NSW police procedure states that tasers should not be used against elderly or disabled people absent exceptional circumstances.
Following the incident, community members, activists, and disability rights advocates expressed bewilderment and anger at what they called an unnecessary use of force, and some are now questioning why law enforcement took so long to prosecute the officer involved.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The New York Times) (CNN)
U.K. Police Face Backlash After Arresting Anti-Monarchy Protesters
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that some of the arrests “raise questions” and “investigations are ongoing.”
The Public Order Act
A controversial protest crackdown law in the U.K. is facing criticism after dozens of anti-monarchy protesters were arrested during the coronation ceremony in London over the weekend.
The law, dubbed the “Public Order Act” was passed roughly a week ahead of the coronation for King Charles III. It gives police more power to restrict protesters and limits the tactics protesters can use in public spaces. It was condemned by human rights groups upon its passing, and is facing a new round of heat after 52 people were arrested over coronation protests on Saturday.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said protesters were arrested for public order offenses, breach of the peace and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The group said it gave advance warning that its “tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low and that we would deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining the celebration.”
It is currently unclear how many of those arrested were detained specifically for violating the Public Order Act, however, some of those arrested believe the new law was used against them.
“Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK,” Graham Smith, the CEO of anti-monarchy group Republic tweeted after getting arrested. “I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”
An Attempt to “Diminish” Protests
During a BBC Radio interview, Smith also said he believes the dozens of arrests were premeditated.
“There was nothing that we did do that could possibly justify even being detained and arrested and held,” Smith claimed.
“The whole thing was a deliberate attempt to disrupt and diminish our protest.”
Yasmine Ahmed, the U.K. Director of Human Rights Watch, also tweeted that the arrests were “disgraceful.”
“These are scenes you’d expect to see in Russia not the UK,” she wrote.
When asked about the controversy, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters officers should do “what they think is best” in an apparent show of support for the Metropolitan Police.
For his part, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is looking into the matter.
“Some of the arrests made by police as part of the Coronation event raise questions and whilst investigations are ongoing, I’ve sought urgent clarity from Met leaders on the action taken,” Khan tweeted.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (CNN) (The Washington Post)
Foreign Nationals Make Mad Dash out of Sudan as Conflict Rages
The conflict’s death toll has surpassed 420, with nearly 4,000 people wounded.
As the 10-day-long power struggle between rival generals tore Sudan apart, foreign governments with citizens in the country scrambled to evacuate them over the weekend.
On Sunday, U.S. special forces landed in the capital Khartoum and carried out nearly 100 American diplomats along with their families and some foreign nationals on helicopters.
An estimated 16,000 Americans, however, remain in the country and U.S. officials said in a statement that a broader evacuation mission would be too dangerous.
Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity warfare, said in a statement that the Pentagon may assist U.S. citizens find safe routes out of Sudan.
“[The Defense Department] is at present considering actions that may include use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to be able to observe routes and detect threats,” he said.
Germany and France also reportedly pulled around 700 people out of the country.
More countries followed with similar efforts, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Canada, China, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Indonesia.
Yesterday, a convoy carrying some 700 United Nations, NGO, and embassy staff drove to Port Sudan, a popular extraction point now that the airport in Khartoum has closed due to fighting.
Reports of gunmen prowling the capital streets and robbing people trying to escape, as well as looters breaking into abandoned homes and shops, have persuaded most residents to stay indoors.
Heavy gunfire, airstrikes, and artillery shelling have terrorized the city despite several proposed ceasefires.
Over the weekend, the reported death toll topped 420, with nearly 4,000 people injured, though both numbers are likely to be undercounted.