Daesh leader Baghdadi, world’s ‘most wanted’, sought in Syria offensive

US-backed forces have launched an offensive on Daesh’s last stronghold in eastern Syria, but the man dubbed the world’s “most wanted” could yet again slip through the net, experts warn. (AFP / AL-FURQAN MEDIA)
Updated 21 September 2018
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Daesh leader Baghdadi, world’s ‘most wanted’, sought in Syria offensive

  • There have been recurring reports of Baghdadi being killed or injured, but the elusive leader is believed to be still alive.
  • In August, he resurfaced in a purported new audio recording in which he urged his followers to keep up the fight despite Daesh having lost around 90 percent of the territory it held at the height of its reign of terror.

PARIS: US-backed forces have launched an offensive on Daesh’s last stronghold in eastern Syria, but the man dubbed the world’s “most wanted” — Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi — could yet again slip through the net, experts warn.
There have been recurring reports of Baghdadi being killed or injured, but the elusive leader, whose only known public appearance dates to July 2014 when he proclaimed a cross-border caliphate from the pulpit of a mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul, is believed to be still alive.
In August, he resurfaced in a purported new audio recording in which he urged his followers to keep up the fight despite Daesh having lost around 90 percent of the territory it held at the height of its reign of terror.
He also urged them to continue waging lone-wolf attacks in the West.
In May, a senior Iraqi intelligence official told AFP that Baghdadi had been moving discreetly between villages and towns east of the Euphrates river in Deir Ezzor province, near the Iraqi border.
He was traveling in a small group of “four or five people” including male relatives, the official said.
Iraqi political commentator Hisham Al-Hashemi, an expert on the Sunni extremist group, said his security sources told him Baghdadi was hiding out in the Syrian desert and regularly moved between Al-Baaj in northwest Iraq and Hajjin in Syria’s southeast.
As the caliphate crumbled, Iraqi forces and coalition-backed forces in Syria have killed or captured several Daesh leaders.
On Wednesday an Iraqi presented as Baghdadi’s deputy, Ismail Alwan Salman Al-Ithawi, was sentenced to death by a court in Iraq after being apprehended in Turkey and extradited as part of a joint Turkish-Iraqi-US operation.
In May, Iraqi forces claimed to have captured five top Daesh commanders in a cross-border sting.
The US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance launched Operation Roundup last week, the third phase of a year-old operation to clear southeastern Syria of its last Daesh holdouts, in an area around the Euphrates extending around 50 kilometers (30 miles) into Syria.
“This is the last bastion for Daesh’s mercenaries,” Zaradasht Kobani, a Kurdish commander with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, told AFP.
“We will eliminate them here,” he said.
But reeling in Baghdadi will not be simple, said Hassan Hassan, a senior research fellow at the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University in Washington.
“He and his group learned from previous mistakes that led to the killing of the top two leaders in 2010, (al-Baghdadi’s predecessor) Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi, and his war minister Abu Hamza Al-MuHajjir,” Hassan told AFP.
“This means that only a very few and highly-trusted people know where he is.”
The mountains, desert, river valleys and villages of the border area provide “several possible hideouts,” Hassan noted.
 


War on militants ‘won’t end unless West tackles root causes’

Daesh militants wave flags on their vehicles in a convoy on a road leading to Iraq. (AP)
Updated 15 December 2018
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War on militants ‘won’t end unless West tackles root causes’

  • Driven from lands it once held sway over in Syria and Iraq, Daesh has returned to its origins as an underground militant outfit
  • “Beyond the tactical victories on the ground, the current strategy is failing”

WASHINGTON: Western powers fighting militant groups around the globe are condemned to a never-ending battle if they only tackle the symptoms and not the underlying causes of militant insurgency, experts say.

“Beyond the tactical victories on the ground, the current strategy is failing,” said Katherine Zimmerman, who wrote a recent report for the American Enterprise Institute.

“Every soldier and intelligence analyst that has worked on this problem understands what is happening,” Zimmerman told AFP.

“They understand that what they are doing is a temporary solution. It’s ending the immediate threat but not stabilizing or moving us forward. The problem comes down to policy and politics,” she noted.

“It’s easy to say, ‘We’re going to kill the person responsible for making the bomb.’ It is much more difficult to say that our partner government has disenfranchised this group and it’s one of the reasons why this person joins the terrorist group. And now he is the bomb maker.”

Driven from lands it once held sway over in Syria and Iraq, Daesh has returned to its origins as an underground militant outfit because the conditions that spawned it — a deep discontent among most Iraqis and Syrians — have persisted, experts say.

“The West is on the road to winning all the battles and losing the war,” warned Zimmerman.

In a report last month on the resurgence of Daesh as a clandestine guerrilla group, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that while the US and allied governments have weakened some groups like Daesh, “many of the underlying causes have not been adequately addressed.”

Those root causes include a “fragile state with weak or ineffective governing institutions” in areas affected by militant activity, where the extremists can establish a sanctuary, the CSIS experts said.

They took maps showing areas where Al-Qaeda and Daesh were active and compared them to maps displaying “government effectiveness,” based on World Bank statistics.

The result was clear: Most of the countries where the insurgents are active — Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia — are also in the bottom 10 percent for government effectiveness.

At a conference this week in Washington, retired Marine Gen. John Allen — who once commanded US forces in Afghanistan and now heads the prestigious Brookings Institution — said the West had to get ahead of the issue and ask, “Where should we be looking for the next problems?”

“We should spend a great deal more time looking at those areas that are in fragile or failing states,” said Allen, who also served as presidential envoy to the international coalition battling Daesh.

“We have to recognize the hotspots where the human condition prompts the radicalization of large sectors of the population,” he added.

“Often we join the conversation when the process of radicalization has been in place for quite a long time.”

Allen noted that the problem is “a development issue, much more than a counter-terrorism issue.”