U.S. Official Looks to Bolster Fight Against ISIS After Trump Says It's 100% Defeated

Following the death of Baghdadi, security experts warn of future attacks by the group

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A member of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) removes an Islamic State group flag in the town of Tabqa, Syria, April 30, 2017.
A member of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) removes an Islamic State group flag in the town of Tabqa, Syria, April 30, 2017.Credit: AFP PHOTO / DELIL SOULEIMAN

The United States wants to bolster a coalition fighting Islamic State in northeastern Syria, a senior State Department official said on Monday, after the leader of the jihadi movement, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in a weekend operation.

World leaders welcomed his death, but they and security experts warned that the group which carried out atrocities against religious minorities and horrified most Muslims remained a security threat in Syria and beyond.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 45

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The official said that President Donald Trump, by announcing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria on October 6, did not suggest that Washington was abandoning the fight against Islamic State.

"There was never an idea that we would abandon the mission of going after ISIS ... This is a major effort that is continuing," the official told reporters.

Foreign ministers will meet in Washington on November 14 to discuss the mission.

Trump has softened his pullout plans for Syria after a backlash from Congress, including fellow Republicans, who say he enabled a long-threatened Turkish incursion on October 9 against Kurdish forces in Syria who had been America's top allies in the battle against Islamic State since 2014.

U.S. special forces carried out the Syrian operation in which Baghdadi killed himself and three of his children by detonating a suicide vest when he was cornered in a tunnel.

Trump said on Monday he may declassify and release part of the video taken on Saturday of the raid. The video is believed to include aerial footage and possibly footage from cameras mounted on the soldiers who stormed Baghdadi's compound.

"We're thinking about it. We may," Trump told reporters before flying to Chicago. "We may take certain parts of it and release it."

Trump said on Sunday that Baghdadi had died "whimpering and crying" in a raid that fulfilled his top national security goal.


Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say if the United States had told Russia about the operation in advance.

But he added: "If this information is confirmed we can talk about a serious contribution by the president of the United States to the fight against international terrorism."

French President Emmanuel Macron said Baghdadi's death was a major blow against Islamic State but "the fight continues to finally defeat this terrorist organisation".

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "We will work with our coalition partners to bring an end to the murderous, barbaric activities of Daesh (Islamic State) once and for all."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters: "This is a many-headed monster ... As you cut one off, another one inevitably arises."

In Southeast Asia, an important focus for Islamic State, officials said security forces were preparing for a long battle to thwart the group's ideology.

The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, home to some of Asia's most organised Islamist militants, said they were braced for retaliation by Islamic State loyalists, including "lone wolf" attacks by radicalised locals.


Though Baghdadi's death will unsettle Islamic State, it remains capable and dangerous, said Delfin Lorenzana, defence secretary of the Philippines, where the group's influence has taken a hold in its troubled Mindanao region.

"This is a blow to the organisation considering al-Baghdadi's stature as a leader. But this is just a momentary setback considering the depth and reach of the organisation worldwide," Lorenzana said. "Somebody will take his place."

Baghdadi had long been sought by the United States - which offered a $25 million reward - as leader of a jihadist group that at one point controlled large areas of Syria and Iraq, where it declared a caliphate.

Islamic State has brutally attacked religious minorities and launched deadly strikes on five continents in a violent campaign that horrified most Muslims.