This morning it appears likely that America‘s long and frustrating hunt for the leader of ISIS has come to a dramatic end in a burst of gunfire in northern Syria.
We are awaiting confirmation from the President, but US special forces and a dedicated CIA team have killed a “high value” target. It is widely believed that the man was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive leader of the terrorist group known as the Islamic State.
Trump appeared to reference the success with a simple tweet overnight that read: “Something very big has just happened.”
After the fiasco of Trump’s policy in Syria over recent weeks - abandoning Kurdish allies and giving Turkey a green light for its invasion - this is hugely welcome news for the White House. You can expect the President to trumpet the announcement later today, not least to change the topic of conversation from the betrayal of the Kurds and from impeachment.
Al-Baghdadi has rarely been seen in recent years, and the last confirmed sighting was an infamous sermon he gave in Mosul’s Grand Mosque in July 2014. He was widely seen as an utterly ruthless and tactically brilliant leader of the Islamic State, forcing al-Qaida fighters in Iraq and Syria to merge with ISIS and creating a deadly extremist alliance that was responsible for widespread atrocities. The resulting Caliphate at one point threatened the regimes in both Baghdad and Damascus.
It is believed that al-Baghdadi was injured In a US air strike in May 2017. But it was never confirmed and unauthenticated video of the terrorist leader emerged in April. But his trade craft and operational security was excellent - he rarely communicated other than by letter or word of mouth - and the Americans have long struggled to pick up his trail.
But like with the hunt for Osama bin Laden, it appears that Washington’s long covert military reach and the CIA’s patience has finally caught up with their elusive adversary.
Only his most fanatical disciples will mourn the death of al-Baghdadi, if it is confirmed. Around the world, including in Syria and Iraq - the terrorist leader’s demise will be widely viewed with grim satisfaction.