Lessons from operation that killed Baghdadi

More than eight years after Osama bin Laden, founder of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, was killed by US Navy SEALS, US Special Forces eliminated another dreaded terrorist, Islamic State chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in Syria’s Idlib province on Saturday.

The Special Forces, US intelligence agencies, President Donald Trump and top military officials deserve full credit for making the world a safer place by killing a man who dreamed of ruthlessly ruling it as caliph.

For the US, this highly risky operation would not have been possible without outside support. They got some vital information on Baghdadi from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Russia, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria too cooperated well, according to Trump.

The death of Baghdadi came when he was making efforts to regroup Islamic State after they lost their last stronghold in Syria in March. In a video message released in April, he reminds his supporters that their fight for a worldwide caliphate is far from over.

Baghdadi’s violent end in a tunnel is a big blow to Islamic State but it does not mean the end of the group.

Baghdadi took up arms when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. With him gone, another terrorist may emerge to lead the group.

But Islamic State may have to shelve its expansion plan for now while encouraging its sleeper cells across the world to regroup.

For the Special Forces and the US, the death of Baghdadi is a great moment.

For Trump, it is great opportunity to silence his critics, including some Republicans, who were questioning his decision to withdraw more than 1,000 troops from Syria.

The critics argued that the pull-out of US forces would give a new lease of life for Islamic State.

As media and lawmakers were mounting attacks on Trump over his Middle East policy during the past two weeks, he was engaged in secret talks with top officials on eliminating the world’s most wanted terrorist.

Trump must have been chuckling as he tweeted on Saturday night: “Something very big has just happened!”

The death of Baghdadi also brightens Trump’s chances of winning the 2020 election. During campaigns, he can very well project himself as a strong leader who takes enormous risks to protect the world from terrorist groups.

Trump can proudly tell voters that the operation in Idlib ordered by him stopped the resurgence of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organisation which had inspired deadly attacks in Asia, Africa and Europe.

But the story of Islamic State is far from over. One can destroy terrorists like Osama bi Laden and Baghdadi but not the evil ideas they created.

The challenge facing the world now is how to prevent terror attacks targeting security forces, hostages, politicians, tourists, shoppers, worshippers, passengers, revellers, pilgrims, mourners, patients, students and marchers.

One way to address this problem is to isolate terrorists and countries that harbour them. That is easier said than done.

Big nations are always divided whenever a motion is tabled in the UN Security Council demanding a certain individual be designated as an international terrorist.

After the motion is put to vote, some nations will vote against it just because the terrorist belongs to a country with which they have strong trade ties. For them, business matters more than issues that touch on a country’s security.

China is a case in point.  Until May this year, Beijing had been consistently opposing India’s motion urging the UN to declare Jaish-e Mohammed (JeM) chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.

Beijing feared a ban on the terrorist group may make the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor vulnerable to its attack.

Responsible nations must accept the fact that there is no “good terror” or “bad terror” and isolate the Osamas and Baghdadis.

The mass executions by Islamic State have horrified millions of people who follow Islam, a religion that stands for peace, justice and equality.

Countries that follow various systems like democracy, Islamic laws and communism must stand united in the fight against terrorists who enslave, rape, torture and kill innocent people.

The way some of the Middle East countries cooperated with the US in Saturday’s operation is laudable and a good lesson for others.

The Idlib operation proves that painstaking efforts by intelligence agencies will ultimately pay off. Once their sources on the ground get close to the problem, they will get the answers.

This way, the US agencies got input on the booby-trapped main entrance to Baghdadi’s hideout. That saved the lives of men and women in the Special Forces.

Everything was planned well and it was, as Trump put it, an “impeccable” operation.