Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, killed himself on Oct. 25 using a suicide vest after being cornered in a dead-end tunnel during an American military raid, according to The New York Times. Since his death, the Islamic State (IS) has named a new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has claimed that Turkish forces have captured the wife of the late leader.
Amid these consequential foreign policy decisions, President Donald Trump also withdrew American troops from northernmost Syria. The persistent turmoil in the region has received international attention, and members of the Seton Hall community have been eyeing the continued crisis.
Dr. Bryan Price, founding executive of the Buccino Leadership Institute Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.), is a nationally recognized expert on leadership development and terrorism. Price has led combat troops and has taught as an associate professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, according to the Seton Hall website.
According to Price, since the United States has recently pulled its troops from Syria, he believes that the “door is left wide open” for IS to regroup. Additionally, Price said that IS will probably conduct more independent activity outside the Levant - a large swath of area encompassing several Middle Eastern countries along the Mediterranean Sea.
“Remember, the group was practically decimated in 2011, but due to the gross lack of governance in Syria after the Arab Spring and in Iraq after the United States withdrew, the group found a fertile socio-political ground to grow,” Price said, “I fear the same ingredients are there now.”
Overall, Price claimed the tactical operation to remove al-Baghdadi “is without a doubt a foreign policy success.” Furthermore, Price said that it is important for the United States’ enemies to understand “that we will not stop until justice is served.”
However, although the elimination of al-Baghdadi was a success, Price said that his death may not necessarily lead to an overarching military success in Iraq and Syria.
Price’s book, “Targeting Top Terrorists: Understanding Leadership Removal in Counterterrorism Strategy,” has received worldwide acclaim from experts, according to the Seton Hall website.
The foreign policy tactic called leadership decapitation is the main subject of his lauded book. Price’s book does not champion nor criticize the act of leadership decapitation but presents empirical analysis which shows that this specific tactic increases the mortality rate of terrorist groups. According to Price, these effects decrease the longer a militant group exists.
“Since IS can draw its roots back to 2003 when it was called al Qaeda in Iraq under Zarqawi, it is extremely unlikely that IS will catastrophically collapse after the loss of al-Baghdadi,” Price said. “With that said, there can be other benefits derived from taking out al-Baghdadi beyond the high-bar of a catastrophic collapse.”
Although Price has spent much time on his scholarship, he has also served in multiple levels of command and he has led armed service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said that being on the ground provided him with an appreciation for the complexities involved in both countries.
“There are no easy solutions, and every decision includes difficult tradeoffs,” Price said. “And obviously, the decision to send America’s sons and daughters into harm’s way should be a measure of last resort and never taken lightly.”
Mark McGuire, a senior diplomacy and international relations major said that al-Baghdadi’s death will not contribute much toward the destabilization of the region.
“We have seen an uptick in large scale protests in Lebanon and Iraq directed at other social ills such as corruption and high unemployment which are much more likely to destabilize the Levant. In terms of destabilization therefore, IS is likely to try and use this social discontent and not Al-Baghdadi’s death for recruitment.”
Like Price, McGuire considers the successful raid a tactical success for the United States. McGuire said that neutralizing the leader of IS damages the group’s appeal as an effective enterprise and the leader’s passing may foment strife regarding the organization’s successor. Additionally, McGuire said the raid alone will likely have minimal impact on mitigating the overall threat posed by the extremist group.
Thomas Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.