ISIS’ de facto capital in Raqqa, Syria, came under increased military pressure from U.S.-backed forces last weekend, with airstrikes destroying some of the extremist group’s military and oil infrastructure, and Syrian opposition forces capturing a northwestern neighborhood of the city.
The capture of Romaniah yesterday by the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces marks the second district to fall out of ISIS’ control after a wide offensive on Raqqa, among the first cities ISIS captured in 2014 and home to some of its most prominent leaders.
The Department of Defense reported June 11 that U.S. and coalition military forces conducted 27 strikes consisting of 35 engagements against ISIS targets Saturday, including 17 near Raqqa. The Raqqa strike hit 15 ISIS tactical units as well as two “ISIS headquarters” and several vehicles, the Pentagon said.
The bombardment came amid unconfirmed reports from Syrian state television that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in an air strike Saturday. The ISIS leader has been reported killed previously, only to re-emerge. The Pentagon did not comment on al-Baghdadi’s status yesterday.
Bradley Schreiber, president of Homeland Security Solutions and a former senior adviser for the Department of Homeland Security, said al-Baghdadi’s death would be a “tremendous blow” to ISIS, even if a new leader is waiting in the wings.
“Most of the terrorist organizations, especially ISIS, have decentralized their command and controls, but the reality is that he was the central figure of that,” Schreiber said. “While there may be others who could potentially step in to take over day-to-day operations, to have that vision and to cultivate that fervor that is around the ideology of ISIS, it’s going to be a hard thing to replace right away.”
The State Department was offering a $25 million reward for information leading to al-Baghdadi’s capture. The department calls him the “senior leader” of ISIS, and upped its reward after ISIS seized control of portions of Syria and Iraq, declared the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, and named al-Baghdadi as caliph.
Kamran Bokhari, a senior fellow with the Center for Global Policy and analyst with Geopolitical Futures, said ISIS is poised to recover quickly if a leader is killed.
“Every one of their top leaders knows that they’re dead men walking, and therefore they have planned accordingly,” Bokhari said, adding that coalition forces are “going to have to kill a whole lot more leaders, and simultaneously, in order to have the desired effect.”
The State Department also said yesterday that two airstrikes near Abu Kamal in Syria destroyed three ISIS oil storage tanks, and eight strikes near Dayr Az Zawr destroyed 23 ISIS oil tanks, three ISIS separation tanks, two ISIS well heads, an ISIS-held building and an ISIS refinery.
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