Even though terrorist attacks by the Islamic extremist group ISIS based in Syria are not talked about frequently anymore, they remain an imminent threat to security around the world. However, on October 27, 2019, Donald Trump revealed to the world that the US was able to extract and kill the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a raid. In a statement to the press, Trump thanked Russia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Syrian Kurds for their help and cooperation. While Turkey acknowledged their role in the mission, Russia denies any involvement in it. He goes on to call European nations “a tremendous disappointment” for not taking any responsibility for their ISIS fighters.
For the US, Trump says that the flight in and out were most dangerous. US helicopters were shot as they traveled to the compound and returned fire, however, it was soon discovered that the gunfire was not aimed at the helicopters. Upon being inquired about the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, Trump replied by saying, “We don’t want to keep soldiers between Syria and Turkey for the next 200 years. But we are leaving soldiers to secure the oil. And we might have to fight for the oil.”
As Roosevelt said, “the state is only as good as its leader”. The killing of Baghdadi is not just a victory for America, but a victory for the world. With the death of Baghdadi, this can be seen as potentially the end of the ISIS era. However, many terrorist organizations are built upon the belief that Western influence and culture is to destroy Islamic beliefs. For example, the killing of Osama Bin Laden was met with sympathy from jihadists around the world. Two influential jihadists eulogized Bin Laden calling him ‘our knight’ who sacrificed his life for Islam while it was under attack. Media groups such as Al-Fajar Media showed sympathy towards Bin Laden and posted threats but extremists towards the Western world. Therefore, such raids while necessary may be motivation for survivors or close followers of such organizations to continue in the footsteps of their former leader. Furthermore, Trump blatantly declares his intentions to ‘fight’ for the oil present in Syria. This makes the Western stereotype of capitalism more intense and provides a motive for increased outrage by the extremists. This may also enrage other countries who might have their eyes on the oil and promote an undemocratic and dangerous method of extraction of the resource, making the area increasingly unstable.
We have evidence from the aftermath of Bin Laden’s death that while the move was a deadly blow to Al-Qaeda’s morale, today, Al-Qaeda is led by Ayman al-Zawahri (who is not well known in the Western world) holding the same power and influence that Bin Laden had. Certainly, Al-Qaeda remains a threat and the organization is by no means dead, therefore we are unsure of future developments of leaders in ISIS and should not rule it out as being over.
The world is a better place without terrorists like Baghdadi, however, if there is something we can learn from the killing of Bin Laden is that the legacy of Bin Laden lived on for many young jihadists. An alternative could be to have captured Baghdadi and to put him on trial in the places where ISIS has committed jihad. This would make all his crimes transparent for the world and help eradicate the possible legacy he may have left behind.
There may be a silver lining for Syria. There are reports for demarcating new areas of influence. Thus, new borders can be drawn to accommodate ethnic sectarian lines. The falling of order and chaos in the region is troubling. There still exists very weak political governance. Gaining legitimacy in the face of terror and loss may be easier for an extremist who promises the people peace and revenge based on religion. However, this is the second time a very influential Islamic leader has been overthrown and the people may be ready to consider change and justice as new forms of governance. Nevertheless, over the past 6 months, ISIS detainees have been able to organize in large camps in eastern Syria much like the one where Baghdadi was captured in 2004. These detainees and their rage over the death of their leader may lead to the rise of another Baghdadi. Furthermore, the US decision to abandon the Kurds, who fought on their behalf, may spark even more outrage. Neither Iraqi or Syrian national armies have been able to fully regroup from the damages they faced in the face of such threat.
Therefore, there are many hypothetical situations that one can imagine for the future of ISIS. While we should remain optimistic that the death of Baghdadi is a great feat for the world, there remains a looming threat by jihadists in the Middle East and the war on terrorism is not over yet.
- Annamalai, Ganesan. “The Impact of Osama Bin Laden’s Death on the Landscape of Global Jihad.” Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, vol. 3, no. 8, 2011, pp. 10–13. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26350999.
- Martin, Racheal. “5 Years Later, How Does Bin Laden’s Killing Impact Al-Qaida’s Legacy?” NPR, NPR, 1 May 2016, www.npr.org/2016/05/01/476346702/5-years-later-how-does-bin-ladens-killing-impact-al-qaidas-legacy.
- Chulov, Martin. “Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s Death Comes as New Order Takes Shape in the Middle East.” The Guardian, Guardian News, and Media, 27 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/27/abu-bakr-al-baghdadis-death-comes-as-new-order-takes-shape-in-middle-east.
- Perraudin, Frances, et al. “Isis Leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi Killed in US Raid, Says Donald Trump – as It Happened.” The Guardian, Guardian News, and Media, 27 Oct. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/live/2019/oct/27/abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-islamic-state-leader-trump-syria.