- 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)
Hurricane Ian Makes Landfall in Cuba as Florida Braces for Devastation
When it hits the sunshine state, Ian is expected to be a category 3 hurricane.
Ian Lands in Cuba
Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba Tuesday morning as a major category 3 storm, battering the western parts of the country with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that life-threatening storm surges, hurricane-force winds, flash floods, and mudslides are expected. Officials said that around 50,000 people have been evacuated as of Tuesday afternoon.
According to reports, flooding has damaged houses and tobacco crops in the region, and widespread power outages have also been reported.
As dangerous conditions continue in Cuba, Ian is expected to move into the Gulf of Mexico and pass west of the Florida Keys later on Tuesday, becoming a category 4 before the end of the day.
Officials predict it will drop back to a category 3 before making landfall as a major hurricane in Florida, which it is expected to do Wednesday evening.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell said that Ian is currently forecast to land “somewhere between Fort Meyers and Tampa.” She added that the storm is expected to slow down as it hits Flordia, extending the potential devastation.
Forecasts of Ian’s path, however, remain uncertain, leaving residents all over Florida scrambling to prepare for the storm.
Schools have closed down, airports have suspended operations, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has activated the National Guard and taken steps to ensure power outages can be remedied, warning that many should anticipate losing power.
There are also numerous storm and surge watches and warnings in place across Florida and in parts of Georgia and South Carolina.
Evacuation warnings have been implemented throughout many parts of Florida, and officials have said that around 2.5 million people were under some kind of evacuation order by Tuesday afternoon.
Mandatory evacuations have been put in place in several counties, largely focused on coastal and low-lying areas. Some of those evacuation orders have extended to parts of Tampa — Florida’s third-largest city.
Tampa has not been hit by a major hurricane in over a century — a fact that just further emphasizes the unusual path this storm is taking.
Florida’s Division of Emergency Management has a tool to track evacuation zones, as well as more resources at floridadisaster.org. For those looking for shelter, the Red Cross has a system to find one nearby.
The current evacuations are being driven by a number of very serious threats posed by Hurricane Ian. According to the NHC, hurricane-force winds, tropical storm conditions, heavy rainfall, and flooding are expected throughout much of the region.
“Considerable” flooding is also expected in central Florida and predicted to extend into southern Georgia and coastal South Carolina.
One of the biggest threats this hurricane poses is storm surge flooding at the coast — which has been a driving factor in the evacuations.
“Life-threatening storm surge looks increasingly likely along much of the Florida west coast where a storm surge warning is in effect, with the highest risk from Fort Myers to the Tampa Bay region,” the NHC warned Tuesday.
As many experts have pointed out, these dangerous threats of storm surges and catastrophic flooding have been drastically exacerbated by climate change. Specifically, sea level rise driven by climate change makes surges and flooding more likely and more extreme.
According to Axios, a profound example can be found in St. Petersburg, Florida — which is expected to be impacted by Ian — and where sea levels have risen by nearly nine inches since 1947.
That, however, is not only the real-time impact of climate change that is evident from this storm. In addition to climate change being “linked to an increase in rainfall from tropical storms and hurricanes,” Axios also notes that Ian “has been rapidly intensifying over extremely warm sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean that are running above average for this time of year.”
“Climate change favors more instances of rapidly intensifying storms such as Hurricane Ian, due to the combination of warming seas and a warmer atmosphere that can carry additional amounts of water vapor,” the outlet added.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Giorgia Meloni Claims Victory in Far-Right Shift for Italy
Her party has neofascist roots, and she has praised Mussolini in the past.
An Election Without Precedent
Giorgia Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party grabbed the largest share of votes in Italy’s national election by a wide margin, giving the post of prime minister to the first woman and most right-wing politician since Benito Mussolini.
She declared victory early Monday morning after exit polls showed her party overwhelmingly in the lead with at least 26% of the vote, making it the dominant faction in the right-wing coalition, which got 44%.
The other two parties in the alliance — Mateo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia — took 9% and 8% of the vote, respectively.
The center-left alliance only garnered 26% of the vote, with 63% of votes counted, according to the interior ministry.
Voter turnout dropped to a record low at only 63.91%, nine points below the rate in 2018, with turnout especially dismal in southern regions like Sicily.
Meloni is set to become prime minister in the coming weeks as a new government is formed, and the rest of Europe is bracing for what many see as a neofascist demagogue to take power in the continent’s third largest economy.
Speaking to media and supporters following the preliminary results, Meloni said it was “a night of pride for many and a night of redemption.” She promised to govern for all Italians and unite the country.
But her relatively extreme politics — opposed to immigration, the European Union, and what she calls “gender ideology” — unsettles many who fear she will roll back civil rights and form a Euroskeptic alliance with other far-right leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban.
The Next Mussolini?
During the election, Meloni stressed that she is a conservative, not a fascist, but opponents point to her rhetoric, past statements, and party’s history as evidence to the contrary.
“Either you say yes or you say no,” she howled to Spain’s far-right Vox party earlier this year. “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby. Yes to sex identity, no to gender ideology. Yes to the culture of life, not the abysm of death. Yes to the university of the cross, no to the Islamist violence. Yes to secure borders, no to mass migration. Yes to the work of our citizens, no to big international finance. Yes to the sovereignty of peoples, no to the bureaucrats in Brussels. And yes to our civilization.”
Meloni co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012 as an alternative to the more mainstream right-wing parties. It has roots in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a neofascist party that sprouted in the wake of World War II to continue Mussolini’s legacy after his party was banned. The Movement’s symbol — a tricolor flame — remains on the Brothers of Italy’s Flag today, and Meloni has refused to remove it.
She joined the MSI’s youth branch in the 1990s and went on to lead it after the party was renamed the National Alliance.
“I believe that Mussolini was a good politician, which means that everything he did, he did for Italy,” Meloni said at the time.
For the first decade, Brothers of Italy struggled to win more than a single-digit percentage of the vote, and it only garnered 4% in the 2018 election.
But in 2021 and 2022, it distinguished itself as the only opposition party to the unity government that fell apart last July, causing its popularity to inflate.
But the party still wrestles with its fascistic roots; last week, it suspended a member who was running for parliament because a local newspaper revealed that he had made comments supporting Adolf Hitler.
In an August video, Meloni promised to impose a naval blockade in the Mediterranean to interdict Libyan refugees from crossing to Southern Europe on boats. She has also discussed pulling Italy out of the Eurozone or even the E.U. entirely, but she moderated her rhetoric toward Europe during the election.
Italy has received some 200 billion euros in European pandemic recovery funds, and it is set to receive more unless the Union punishes Meloni’s government for democratic backsliding.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (NPR)
Iranian Protests Sparked by Death of Mahsa Amini Spread Internationally
Anger initially directed at the police has now shifted to the Islamic regime itself, with Iranian-Americans protesting outside the U.N. Headquarters as their country’s president spoke inside.
Hijabs Go Up in Flames
The largest protest movement in recent years has gripped Iran since the so-called morality police allegedly beat 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for violating the dress code last week, leading to her later death.
Demonstrations spread from the capital Tehran to at least 80 other cities and towns, with videos on social media showing women burning their hijabs and cutting their hair in defiance.
In response, the government has gradually extended a virtual internet blackout across the country, blocking access to What’s App and Instagram.
To prevent protests from spreading, Iran’s biggest telecom operator largely shut down mobile internet access again Thursday, Netblocks, a group that monitors internet access, said in a statement, describing the restrictions as the most severe since 2019.
Clashes between police and protestors have killed some, but death toll reports on Thursday were conflicted. The Associated Press tallied at least nine people dead, while Iran’s state television put the number at 17, and a human rights group estimated at least 31 deaths.
The violence began on Saturday, shortly after the news that Amini had died the day prior in the hospital where she was comatose for three days.
Previously, the morality police arrested her for violating Islamic law requiring women to cover their hair with a head scarf and wear long, loose-fitting clothing.
Multiple reports and eyewitness accounts claimed that officers beat her in the head with batons and banged her head against one of their vehicles, but authorities have denied harming her, saying she suffered a “sudden heart failure.” Her father told BBC that she was in good health and that he had not been allowed to view her autopsy report.
“My son was with her. Some witnesses told my son she was beaten in the van and in the police station,” he said.
Surveillance footage was released showing Amini collapsing inside the hospital after grabbing her head, seemingly in pain.
From Anti-Hijab to Anti-Regime
Although the protests began in reaction to Amini’s death and Iran’s repressive policing, they quickly flowered into a mass opposition movement against the Islamic regime as men joined ranks of demonstrators and chants of “Death to the dictator!” broke out.
The anger was directed at the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as President Ebrahim Raisi, who attended the United Nations General Assembly this week. Iranian-Americans rallied outside the U.N. Headquarters Wednesday to voice their discontent as Raisi addressed the assembly.
“The hijab is used as a weapon in Iran,” one woman told CBS in Los Angeles. “It is a weapon against the West, and women are used as pawns.”
“Let this be the George Flloyd moment of Iran,” she added.
There have also been demonstrations of solidarity in countries such as Lebanon, Germany, and Canada.