Continuing with the Syrian arc, I have a new piece by Evgeny Krutikov, analyzing the life and (presumably) death of ISIS leader Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi. (Which I will henceforth abbreviate as ABAB for convenience.)
Krutikov begins with the lede and breaking news (from yesterday) about ABAB’s purported death in a Russian air strike near Raqqa on May 28. Russian media was all over this event yesterday, when they were handed the joyous news by the Russian Defense Ministry. Which posted the blood-curdling headline on their Facebook page. Westie media, which ever since 9/11 has obsessed over the demise of individual terrorists, was impressed enough to report the claim, while also poo-pooing it and citing lack of physical proof. The Russian Defense Ministry is fairly certain that they bagged Al-Baghdadi, but hedging their bets in case he suddenly pops up again, quoting Mark Twain. Hence, the “we are reasonably sure that… blah blah blah….”
Meanwhile, the Russians claim, not only that they nailed ABAB in that fatal airstrike, but also put a cap in his henchmen, effectually decapitating the Islamic State. Krutikov lists some of the “cannibals” who are known to have perished: The self-styled “Emir” of Raqqa, Abu al-Haji al-Masri. Ibrahim al-Naef al-Hadja, who was in charge of the region from Raqqa to Al-Sukhnah. Suleiman al-Shaugh [spelling?], Head of Security Service for ISIS. And somewhere around 30 field commanders, and up to 300 regular ISIS troops who served as their bodyguards. This was a big haul, indeed, and gives the Russian army and airforce full gloating rights.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, some time near the end of spring, they received intel of the ISIS leaders planning a big conference in the southern suburbs of Raqqa. They assumed the purpose of this conclave was to figure out how to get their guys out of Raqqa via the so-called “southern corridor”. On the night of 28 May, once drones had confirmed the time and place of the hootenanny, then – BOOM!
For a week or so, nothing was heard except for crickets. And nobody was supposed to know about it. The first cautious gloating occurred on Syrian TV on June 10, which broke the gag order. British newspapers picked up on this “leak” right away, but fortunately they didn’t blaze it around too much. For two reasons:
Firstly, al-Baghdadi and his friends had been “killed” before, at least 4 times. It’s bound to happen sooner or later, but each time is treated with skepticism. Secondly, Westie media looks down their long patrician noses on Syrian government-run TV and does not regard it as credible. However, when the same news came out of the Russian Defense Ministry, it was treated with more respect. Especially since the Russians provided some physical evidence, in the form of “before and after” shots taken from a drone – see here:
The photos clearly show that after the Russian SU-34 and SU-35 unleashed their goodies on these buidings, nothing remained of them, not even one speck of dust. Notice, though, how the next-door mosque, just a wall away, suffered not one whit — now that’s what we call a precision strike! Unfortunately, due to the very thoroughness of the destruction, it is unlikely that any human body parts would have survived, or any physical proof of death, barring very detailed DNA analysis. Which is why the Russians cannot assert, with 100% proof, that al-Baghdadi was rendered down to his molecular components.
[yalensis: I can think of one scenario whereby ABAB could have survived. Krutikov reports that ABAB always preferred to live near a mosque, so as to accentuate to his followers his holiness and moral high-ground. Now, suppose ABAB had by chance ducked out of the meeting just for a few minutes to go preach a quickie sermon in the mosque next door — which the Russian airstrike spared! And then saw what happened, and high-tailed it out of there dressed like a bearded girl on a motorcycle, like some Hollywood movie….]
Reaction of World Media
Some world media rejoiced greatly at the news of the ISIS Caliph’s death, calling it a “remarkable achievement” in the war against terror. The English-language press, being obsessed as it is about personalities, tends to focus on ABAB’s biography and character formation. He makes for a ready villain: A charismatically evil man wearing a black gown. They lose focus on the more important issue, namely, the beheading of the entire ISIS leadership in one fell swoop. Which raises a thorny question: How and why did all these terrorist leaders manage to converge in that one place?
Anyhow, the issue has long been debated, to what degree is a purely terrorist formation dependent on the personalities of its leaders? Or, in this case, on a single charismatic leader? And is it valid to assume that just killing these leaders is an effective tactic? According to one point of view, groups that are founded on religious fanaticism are not really that dependent on individual personalities. And here we are talking about so-called “Umbrella Terrorist Organizations“, in which, when you kill one iron-willed fanatic, another soon comes to take his place.
Others disagree, saying that precisely Umbrella Terrorists are terribly dependent on their leader. The leader is the one guy who knows all the branches of the organization, and he’s the guy who spouts the “inciting” ideology. Without this one guy, the machine can’t operate.
The problem with both theories is that they pretend to be universal rules. In fact, circumstances differ from place to place. For example, the liquidation of the Chechen terrorist Dzhokhar Dudayev did not really help the situation; in the Chechen context, all it did was give lesser but more brutal cannibals a chance to move into the first ranks of leadership. And killing them off, one by one, also didn’t accomplish much, in hindsight. The real breakthrough in this war occurred when the Russian army launched a full-scale assault while simultaneously bringing over to its side an influential wing of the local (Chechen) elite.
By the same token: In Palestine, the Israelis have been chasing after, and killing, individual terrorists and “sheiks” for decades now, with very little to show for it.
On the other side of the coin, European terrorists of the 1970’s and 80’s were brought to heel very quickly when their leaders were arrested or liquidated, since those movements were superficial, had no real base ideology, and relied purely on cult leaders.
Having said all of that, Krutikov now goes into a detailed biography of Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
[to be continued]