New details emerging from the hunt for the Islamic State’s leader have indicated he’s likely still alive and well, despite numerous attempts this summer to snuff him out.
Several U.S. officials told CNN that this summer, the Pentagon conducted an airstrike at a location where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was believed to be based, but it’s unclear whether Baghdadi was killed or not. The U.S. military has attempted multiple times over the last several months to take shots at Baghdadi, one official added.
But there’s a strong amount of skepticism within the federal government regarding Baghdadi’s potential demise because it’s expected that in the aftermath of Baghdadi’s death, ISIS communication channels would be lit up by chatter of the incident. However, U.S. intelligence has not observed this at all.
The U.S. isn’t the only power after Baghdadi. Russia claimed in June that one of its airstrikes on Raqqa in late May could have killed Baghdadi, but the U.S. disbelieves this claim and has instead kept stalking him. In one case, U.S. intelligence learned that a man named Baghdadi was at a particular location. In the end, the Pentagon backed out of conducting a raid because of the number of civilians at the site. Now, U.S. intelligence believes Baghdadi was not actually ever at that location in the first place.
The reason why Baghdadi was likely not ever at that location at that time is because Baghdadi is referred to in internal communications as “Nayef,” not “Baghdadi,” according to Hassan Hassan, senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute/
In his final press conference on August 31, Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who served as the top commander in Baghdad, stated: “I believe he’s alive? Yes. Why? Because I’ve seen no convincing evidence, intelligence or open source or other — rumor or otherwise, that he’s dead. So, therefore, I believe he’s alive.”
While ISIS’s physical caliphate is crumbling in Iraq and Syria, Baghdadi still seems to be alive, and that the moment, that’s the assumption of the U.S. government, which will continue its efforts to track and kill Baghdadi.
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