Abu Dua Death Calls for Celebration, but Also Caution
Abu Dua Death Calls for Celebration, but Also Caution
The death of ISIS leader Abu Dua (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) last night is cause for massive celebration. There’s a big part of me that was hoping we’d see his fetid carcass dragged along Pennsylvania Avenue, tied to a Mustang, while Americans spit on it (or worse), with his abhorrent remains fed to hungry pigs afterward, but that was not to be. I’m hesitant to do that to the poor pigs.
However, we celebrated the death of Usama bin Ladin and then backed off CT pressure against al-Qa’ida, allowing ISIS to rise from the ashes of al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI). Ergo, I’d like to call out a warning that our celebration of Abu Dua’s demise should be tempered by caution and we should not repeat the mistakes of the Obama administration and declare a premature victory over the group.
Note: I am using the name “Abu Dua” or “The Ghost” because al-Baghdadi simply means “from Baghdad,” and I don’t want things to get confusing if another “al-Baghdadi” emerges at a different time.
To be sure, the death of Abu Dua is cause for celebration. Over the years since he emerged as ISIS overall leader in 2014, he became more reclusive and more focused on operational security in an effort to avoid being captured or killed in CT operations. He would publicly address his followers 1-2 times per year to inspire them and direct them to act against Islam’s enemies (read: anyone who doesn’t adhere to his psychotic, violent ideology), and the group since 2014 has become so crazy, that even al-Qa’ida slowly backed away and said, “Dudes… that’s a little too radical.”
But I would caution that while we celebrate, we shouldn’t lose sight of the thread that ISIS continues to pose to the West.
From what I’m seeing, Abu Dua over the years, while inspiring thousands by ordering acts of barbarism so horrific, that most of us shudder at the thought, and bloviating on his extremist interpretation of Islam, has largely been a titular figure. Operational security would preclude him from being directly involved in planning attacks, and ISIS has enough redundancy and resiliency built into its organizational structure that it will continue to grow and threaten the West unless we focus on stopping them in their tracks.
Former National Counterterrorism Center chief Michael Leiter agrees. The United States needs a comprehensive strategy to address the problem of ISIS.
This doesn’t really strategically change the challenge we face with ISIS. The problem is that the president is focused on names and individuals — he said himself that he just wanted Baghdadi dead throughout his time in office.
He clearly thinks that that ends the threat. But simultaneously, our best friends the Kurds have been undermined and were told that this was all about the oil money. And we have hundreds of ISIS fighters who are not just loyal to Baghdadi, but to ISIS as a group, who have been released, and we’ve also lost— to a great extent — our ability to collect intelligence across eastern Syria.
That’s the problem. We may have taken out Baghdadi, but we voluntarily left an area where ISIS is and where we could collect intelligence, like that which supported this raid. We now have the inability to obtain important information like we did just two short weeks ago.
This is not a post about whether or not it was a good idea to withdraw from Northern Syria. I think Nina a few weeks ago and Narcissi before her addressed that issue. This is a post of caution, however, warning that if we back off or relieve CT pressure, ISIS or an even crazier offshoot, will rise again to wreak havoc on the world.
At the end of his presidency, George W. Bush warned that withdrawing from Iraq precipitously would not end well. Nonetheless, Barack Obama just went ahead and did it anyway, completing the withdrawal in 2011.
In his comments after the Bin Ladin raid that finally put an end to that camel-humping swine, Barack Obama gave lip service to remaining vigilant against al-Qa’ida, while fellating radical Islam, while later making excuses for his refusal to use the term.
Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must –- and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.
As we do, we must also reaffirm that the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam. I’ve made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.
In 2013, Obama famously referred to ISIS as the “JV team” and seemed to rest on his laurels, basking in “his” victory over bin Ladin, and refusing to acknowledge ISIS as a threat until it was too late.
What resulted was the mass slaughter of hundreds in 29 countries through inspired attacks and thousands more in outright fighting in Iraq and Syria. That’s on Obama.
We don’t want to make that mistake again.
When President Trump declared that we defeated 100 percent of the ISIS caliphate last year, causing then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign, ISIS reared its ugly head a few weeks later and killed four Americans, injuring three others in Manbij. I’m convinced that this was ISIS’s big middle finger to the United States to say, “Hey, fuckers! We’re still here!” And all it took was a suicide bomber with a vest.
ISIS doesn’t need territory, although it was nice for them to have it. But I would submit that having a caliphate would eventually obligate them to engage in the activities of a “government,” build infrastructure, and provide services, which would be problematic, because the group would still need to fund its branches and networks around the world and arm its psychotic army.
They have little to no territory left. Their control of their oil and gas fields has diminished, although they still have enough strength to steal energy and make profits from it. But thousands of ISIS fighters are on the loose after escaping SDF custody following Turkey’s incursion, and the group has continued to grow despite losing the remainder of its physical territory.
Although there is little concern that the Islamic State will reclaim its former physical territory, a caliphate that was once the size of Britain and controlled the lives of up to 12 million people, the terrorist group has still mobilized as many as 18,000 remaining fighters in Iraq and Syria. These sleeper cells and strike teams have carried out sniper attacks, ambushes, kidnappings and assassinations against security forces and community leaders.
And aside from the actual fighters, there are tacit supporters, and scores of individuals who are vulnerable to radicalization all over the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and the Americas and ready to do harm on behalf of ISIS. There are ISIS fighters with plenty of battlefield experience, who are ready to train a new generation of fighters. Scores of ISIS women who have escaped or have been released from IDP camps all over Northern Syria stand ready not just as operatives, but as breeding stock for a new generation of jihadis. And ISIS this year – after losing territory in Iraq and Syria – declared a new branch in India and a new province in Pakistan.
Fighting ISIS isn’t just a short-term thing, where we get in and get out, while hoping that our inaction will focus ISIS’s ire on other nations. It should damn well matter to us if thousands of radicalized ISIS supporters and fighters flood the gates of Europe. ISIS’s resurgence will necessarily impact the United States – and they will strike when we are most complacent. Killing Abu Dua is wonderful, but fighting ISIS is not about just killing its leader.
Obama’s complacency got us where we are today, and we shouldn’t repeat those mistakes.
So yes, let’s celebrate the death of a monster that is Abu Dua and hope he is burning hard in hell, if there is such a thing, but let’s never lose sight of the long-term battle.