‘Something very big’
Let’s get one thing absolutely straight before we dive in: Conan is a very good dog. He’s also the subject of what is arguably President Donald Trump’s best tweet because, well, dogs. How can you not love them?
And did we mention that Conan — whose name was only recently declassified via tweet by the president — helped take down America’s most wanted terrorist?
On Saturday, U.S. military special forces killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria. The success of the raid was heralded by a cryptic Trump tweet — “Something very big has just happened!" — the same evening the story broke in Newsweek. It was confirmed by the White House on Sunday in a singularly weird press conference, in which the president provided a vivid but questionably accurate play-by-play of the raid.
Our hero Conan, now something of a recurring feature on Trump’s Twitter, was injured in the raid, as were two Delta Force commandos, but no Americans were killed. By all accounts, the mission was a success, and a significant blow to a recently resurgent ISIS.
However, despite Trump’s transparent attempts to one-up predecessor Barack Obama, under whose auspices Sept. 11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden was killed, al-Baghdadi’s death isn’t likely to change much in the fight against ISIS.
The caliph is dead, long live the caliph
First and foremost, there’s this: the simple fact of the matter is that ISIS isn’t going anywhere, al-Baghdadi or no al-Baghdadi.
“Unfortunately, killing leaders does not defeat terrorist organizations,” Jennifer Cafarella, the research director for the Institute for the Study of War, told The New York Times. “We should have learned that lesson after killing Osama bin Laden, after which al-Qaeda continued to expand globally.”
Not only is the group not going anywhere, but as of Thursday, it had itself confirmed al-Baghdadi’s death, and announced a new “caliph,” or leader: Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi.
The group has also been undergoing a resurgence thanks to a recent U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria, which resulted in a Turkish offensive against the formerly U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds, the escape of at least one hundred ISIS prisoners and a reshuffling of regional power dynamics.
For more on the situation in Syria, you can check out our recent Too Afraid to Ask, but the gist is this: between the prison breaks and the newfound instability of the region, conditions are ripe for a resurgent — and certainly not 100 percent defeated — ISIS to rebound from al-Baghdadi’s death.
Trick or treat!
What’s more, U.S. intelligence and military officials told The New York Times that the successful raid occurred largely in spite of, and not because of, the president’s actions, which, well, isn’t the most reassuring bit of news out there.
According to the same officials, the rapid U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria some three weeks ago forced the Pentagon to speed up the timetable for the operation, complicating matters.
The U.S. is also said to have relied heavily on intelligence gathered by the Kurds, a longtime U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS until earlier this month when Trump initiated an American pullout from northern Syria at the behest of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and to the detriment of the Kurds.
Despite the success of the operation, the Kurds are understandably upset. “We thought that America would keep its promises,” said Syrian Democratic Forces commander Mazlum Abdi to The New York Times. “But in the end there was weakness — and disappointment.”
For all that, a recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that the majority of Americans credit the president with al-Baghdadi’s death, though that didn’t stop him from getting roundly booed at Game 5 of the World Series in Washington, D.C., only two days after the raid.
The major Kurdish involvement in the raid, however, just underscores how much worse things have gotten for the U.S. in the region recently. Deprived of a key ally in Syria, it will be harder for the U.S. troops to combat ISIS or pursue any other objectives in the area.
So yes, it’s a great thing for the U.S. — for everyone, really — that we got al-Baghdadi. But don’t expect everything to go smoothly in the fight against ISIS from here on out.