The PJ Tatler

Report: Islamic State Leader 'Critically Wounded' in U.S. Air Strike

Iraqi tribal leaders have told Al-Arabiya TV that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, was “critically wounded” in a US air strike on a gathering of IS leaders

Several other terrorists were killed and many injured, according to the report:

The leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was “critically wounded” when a U.S.-led air strike targeted the western Iraqi border town of al-Qaim, tribal sources told Al Arabiya News Channel on Saturday.

U.S. Central Command confirmed in a statement that U.S.-led air strikes targeted ISIS leaders near their northern Iraqi hub of Mosul late Friday, without confirming whether Baghdadi was killed, AFP reported.

“This strike demonstrates the pressure we continue to place on the ISIL [ISIS] terrorist network and the group’s increasingly limited freedom to maneuver, communicate and command,” U.S. Central Command said.

Anbar province MP Mohammad al-Karbuli told Al Arabiya News Channel that coalition aircraft had targeted a gathering of ISIS leaders in al-Qaim that led to the killing of tens of people and wounded many more.

Karbuli said chaos ensued the air raid with ISIS members scrambling to transport their wounded to al-Qaim hospital which was overwhelmed with the number of patients.

Reuters news agency quoted two witnesses as saying an air strike targeted a house where senior ISIS officers were meeting, near al-Qaim.

The witnesses said ISIS fighters had cleared a hospital so that their wounded could be treated. ISIS fighters used loudspeakers to urge residents to donate blood, the witnesses said.

It should be noted that Al-Arabiya does not have an unblemished record of accuracy. But the Pentagon confirms the strike, although the New York Times reports there may be some confusion about its location:

An airstrike by a United States-led coalition hit a gathering of leaders of the Islamic State jihadist group in northwestern Iraq on Saturday, and Iraqi officials said they believed that a number of top militants had been killed.

An Iraqi security official and a military commander said that at least one strike had targeted a meeting near the town of Qaim, which is in Anbar Province, across the border from the Syrian town of Bukamal. The area is in the desert heartland of the territory the group has seized for its self-declared caliphate.

Both officials said that the strikes had killed many militants from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, including two of its regional governors. Rumors also swirled that the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been either wounded or killed. The officials said they had no confirmed information about Mr. Baghdadi’s presence at the meeting.

A Defense Department official confirmed that coalition aircraft had carried out an air attack “against what was assessed to be a gathering of ISIL leaders,” adding that it had destroyed a convoy of 10 trucks. But the official said the strike had been near Mosul, which is 180 miles from Qaim. The discrepancy in the reported locations could not be immediately explained.

The official also said there had been no confirmation that Mr. Baghdadi was at the meeting.

Our intel people did a great job to get wind of this meeting in time to organize and carry out a devastating strike.

There’s a question as to whether Islamic State can be as effective with someone other than al-Baghdadi at the helm. History suggests there will be trouble:

The wounding and potential loss of Baghdadi may be of more significance for his followers. Baghdadi, as “Caliph Ibrahim,” to maintain his religious foundation, needs to be of a whole body. If he loses a limb in his injuries, his credibility suffers. If he dies, the death would toss the entire concept of the legitimacy of the “Caliphate” on its head. ISIS discourse will likely need to be revised and new leaders will emerge. But clearly, from historical examples, succession in the historical caliphates was often a chaotic and vicious event.

The key question is whether that will be true today. Yet, if a caliph dies, it is up to his adherents to be “free to do as they like.” Baghdadi himself said on the first day of Ramadan “I have been appointed (caliph) over you, even though I am not the best and the most morally excellent among you.” Time will tell.

ISIS’s structure makes it resilient to decapitating strikes. Although there is a formal governmental structure of their “Caliphate,” these fighters can easily translate the injury or loss of their leaders to tactical advantage. Their swarming attacks and capabilities on the battlefield may increase and more innocents will lose their lives.

We’ve learned over the years of fighting terrorists that lopping off the head usually amounts to little more than an inconvenience to the outfit. Other leaders rise to take their place. Although I am not convinced by the Al-Arabiya story of Baghdadi’s death, it appears that we struck a blow that will at least temporarily weaken IS administration.

Its fighters, however, will go on as before.