The death of ISIS founder and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a major milestone in the enduring fight against radical Islamic terrorist groups.
In announcing Baghdadi’s death Sunday, President Donald Trump rightly referenced the ISIS killings of Americans James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller as “particularly heinous.” And he was quick to add the murder of a Jordanian pilot who was burned alive in a cage, as well as the “genocidal mass murder of Yazidis” and Christians killed in several countries.
But the vast majority of the victims of Baghdadi’s reign of terror were Mideast Muslims, as he hijacked one of the world’s great religions in a blasphemous quest for a “caliphate.” For a time, he succeeded — at least in conquering vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, which resulted in conflicts convulsing both countries and eventually the region.
That is until U.S. Special Forces and intelligence agencies combined with indigenous forces to execute former President Barack Obama’s plan to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS — a campaign successfully pursued during Trump’s tenure. Trump deserves praise for continuing this strategy, and for making the call for the daring raid that resulted in Baghdadi’s death.
As in previous efforts to combat terrorism, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, America’s military and intelligence professionals, who are without peer in the world, also deserve credit.
And, once again, an indigenous force gave invaluable intelligence that led to locating Baghdadi. In the process, Syrian Kurds showed more loyalty to America than they received from the U.S. after Trump all but abandoned them to a Turkish incursion, even though the Kurds fought fiercely and effectively to eject ISIS from their caliphate.
In his announcement of Baghdadi’s death, Trump eventually thanked the Kurds. But only after he thanked the Russians, Turks, Iraqis and even the Syrian government led by Bashar Assad, whose homicidal reign in part created the conditions for such a violent extremist group to gain ground.
That slight and — more profoundly — Trump’s betrayal of an ally will likely make it more difficult to convince other regional forces to aid the U.S. as it continues its fight against terrorist groups. This includes down-but-not-out ISIS, which depended more on ideology than individual leadership as it formed in countries across the Mideast and North Africa.
To continue making progress, Trump will need to depend on the same intelligence agencies he’s widely derided as they have rendered their professional consensus on other issues that shine an unfavorable light on the administration, such as Russia’s ongoing attacks on our democracy.
While we do not celebrate any death — especially one in which the intended target dragged three children with him as he detonated his suicide vest — ending Baghdadi’s reign of terror was necessary to prevent even more carnage due to his horrific actions.
Those selfless Americans who for the last generation have worked tirelessly to try to stop the scourge of terrorism, including those who successfully hunted down Baghdadi, have earned this nation’s gratitude.