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ISIS: much more than a military target

Donald Trump announced on Sunday morning that the leader of the Islamic State had taken his own life in the middle of a US military operation in Syria

Donald Trump announced on Sunday morning that the leader of the Islamic State had taken his own life in the middle of a US military operation in Syria

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, adressing Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Mosul.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, adressing Muslim worshippers at a mosque in Mosul. / Photo: al-Furqan Media / AFP / Getty Images, FILE

LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Suárez

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Leer en español: ISIS: mucho más que un blanco militar

Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was "the most wanted man in the world" for more than five years. With most of his leaders captured, al Baghdadi represented a challenge for military operations against this group that the United States declared war on years ago.

In a press conference on Sunday 27, Donald Trump said that “last night, the United States brought the world's number one terrorist to justice. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is dead. ” The leader died in the middle of a military operation carried out by the United States government and he detonated an explosive vest when he saw himself "in a dead end tunnel."

The US president said that capturing the leader and founder of the Islamic State, dead or alive, was the number one priority of National Security in his administration. For this reason, the fact has been listed as a triumph for the United States and its government.

According to the official version, 11 minors were taken from the place where the operation occurred and are safe and sound. However, al Baghdadi took 3 of his children with him and they died when the vest detonated.

This fact comes at a critical time for Syria, as days before the United States had announced that it would withdraw its troops from the border with Turkey, where it protected the Kurds from Kurdish attacks. This led to attacks by the Turkish government towards this ethnic group that, for Erdogan and his government, are terrorists. The above caused the death of hundreds of civilians and led to a subsequent cessation to the temporary fire, in which they are currently.

In this way, the military action of the United States at a critical moment comes as a message, not only for the ISIS organization but also for the geopolitical conflicts in the area.

However, the strength and military presence of ISIS was not as great as it was years ago. At the time, the group presented a threat to many nations, territories and, above all, civilians. Hence, the reason why the United States with its allies (like the Kurds), decided to declare a direct war on the terrorism of the Islamic State.

Thanks to alliances, many of the leaders were in the power of the Kurds. This coalition, which also includes Syria, Iraq and Russia, worked together to eliminate that common enemy, each with its own interests involved.

Also read: Syria: between attacks and agreements

But the power of groups like ISIS goes beyond a strong military presence in the territories. For the Colombian geopolitical analyst Maria Paula Velandia, ISIS represents a much bigger problem that cannot be solved with military attacks. Therefore, the death of al Baghdadi, although it is a media coup and a boost for Donald Trump's war policy, does not create a sufficient impact on what the armed group represents.

"The death of a military objective, whether of ISIS or another group, is not enough, the fact that he dies at Baghdadi does not mean that he has no replacement," says Velandia, "from this it is possible that they even begin to make terrorist attacks to show that they are still 'alive' as an organization".

However, strategically and politically it is a victory, especially for the fight against terrorism, which is the flag of the United States. So the leader's death serves as a positive image for the allied countries in that struggle.

But the Islamic State is much more than a military objective, which is why the dismantling of the organization will hardly come with intelligence operations like the one carried out by the Trump administration over the weekend.

Ideology and beliefs make these types of groups practically indestructible, so one leader is replaced by another and the operation continues, because the end is greater. "The terrorist attacks after all manage to unite many adherents who think similar and have the same beliefs, so ending the leader fails to end the problem," says the analyst.

Although the Islamic State originated and had its greatest presence in Syria and Iraq, the ideological component allows the facility to create cells in places away from the main bases. Recruitment in these types of groups is constant and the death of the leader can mean an opportunity for them to strengthen themselves and start recruiting more and more people.

The figure of the United States as a great enemy and everything that Donald Trump represents in the war on terrorism, makes these groups seek to strengthen themselves further. Therefore, although the operation leaves this country mediaticly strong as the military power that has been for years, it also awakens again the struggle of a group that is very sensitive to these issues.

For Maria Paula Velandia, who has focused on studying and analyzing the interference of Russia on issues in Europe and the Middle East, she affirms that "currently, the real political reason for this area in which the international community should look is the struggle between Kurds and Turks: see who is going to consolidate Syria, this being a fundamental point for both Russia and the United States".

The geopolitical importance of the Middle East makes the conflict difficult to end. It is for this same reason that a single conflict has so many juxtaposed actors and interests. While this happens, groups of this style, regardless of name or leader, can take advantage of political and social instability to consolidate.

At first glance, the death of the leader, and the conditions in which they occurred, are a triumph for US military policy. However, in depth the conflict persists and it has taken innocent lives in vulnerable countries such as Syria. "It is a game of positions and actors that will never end, especially because of the geopolitical positioning of the United States", Velandia concludes.

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