The Islamic State's Leader is Dead. What Now?

The Islamic State's Leader is Dead. What Now?

The death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a daring raid by US special forces on Saturday is a significant breakthrough in American efforts to defeat the sprawling terror organization, which has killed thousands and inflicted suffering on millions of people, primarily in the Muslim world. What should we make of the takedown of one of the world's most elusive terrorists? Here are some key questions to consider.


For ISIS, is this an operational blow or a symbolic one? In recent years, al-Baghdadi has seldom been seen or heard from. And while he served an important inspirational and symbolic role in building ISIS' jihadist brand, attracting fighters from every region of the world to come to the Levant, and inspiring offshoots elsewhere, his operational control of the organization had evidently faded as the group became more globally diffuse. But that symbolism is important: taken together with the loss of their self-proclaimed Caliphate (which was once as big as the UK), the death of al-Baghdadi may well undermine the vision of establishing a global caliphate. What's more, intelligence recovered from al-Baghdadi's hideout could help to disrupt operations by the organization's members and sympathizers in the region and globally.

What does this mean for the broader appeal of Islamic extremism? Probably not much. It is one thing to kill a particular terrorist leader, but quite another to extinguish the appeal of jihadist extremism itself. The death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 is a case in point. At the time he was the most wanted terrorist in the world. His death helped to hobble Al-Qaeda, but just a few years later ISIS emerged. For ISIS sympathizers scattered around the world and connected to its violent ideology via the internet, al-Baghdadi's death is unlikely to have much effect on their extreme beliefs or their readiness to carry out attacks.

How does this fit in with Trump's plan to withdraw from Syria? One of Trump's stated reasons for leaving Syria was his claim that ISIS had been defeated. Killing al-Baghdadi certainly lends weight to that notion. But it's still not clear whether Trump's withdrawal will, in fact, allow rank and file ISIS members to regroup and regenerate their movement in ways that undercut the recent successes. The Trump administration seems aware of that possibility, as it has deployed hundreds of US troops to "guard oil fields," in part from ISIS advances in eastern Syria.

Looking forward: The death of the visionary sadist behind the Islamic State strikes a blow to the terror group, but how this will translate on the battlefield remains unclear. The group has been landless for some time, now it's leaderless. Will that matter?

Yau Abdul Karim lives and works in Garin Mai Jalah, located in the Yobe State of northeastern Nigeria. Essential to his work raising cattle is reliable access to water, yet environmental degradation has led to fewer water sources, severely impacting communities like his that depend on livestock. In 2019, with the help of FAO, Eni installed a special solar-powered well in Yau's town that provides water during the day as well as light at night.

Watch Yau's story as he shows how his family and community enjoy life-enhancing access to both water and light.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. And I thought I'd talk a little bit today about the latest in Israel, Palestine. It's obviously been driving headlines all week. And of course, on social media, there's no topic that we all get along and agree with each other more than Israel, Palestine. It's an easy one to take on. Yeah, I know I'm completely full of crap on that. But I thought I would give you some sense of what I think is actually happening where we're going. So first point, massive fight, big conflict between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli defense forces. Not only that, but also more violence and a lot of violence breaking out between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Extremists on both sides taking to the streets and fairly indiscriminate violence, in this case, worst since 2014.

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Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, says another independence referendum for Scotland is now a matter of "when not if," and that after leaving the UK, Scotland will launch a bid to rejoin the EU. But there are formidable obstacles ahead.

Getting to a vote will force a complex game of chicken with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. If a majority of Scots then vote for independence — hardly a sure thing – the process of extricating their new country from the UK will make Brexit look easy. Next, come the challenges of EU accession. In other words, Scotland's journey down the rocky road ahead has only just begun.

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Cyber is a tool, and sometimes a weapon. Whether espionage for commercial gain or indiscriminate attacks on critical infrastructure, actions taken in cyber space affect you directly, potentially upending even the most mundane realities of everyday life.

Join GZERO Media and Microsoft for a live conversation on cyber challenges facing governments, companies, and citizens in a Munich Security Conference "Road to Munich" event on Tuesday, May 18.

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According to Delhi-based journalist Barkha Dutt, while the Indian government has finally started to mobilize in response to the COVID crisis, there's still a lot of denial about the severity of the ourbreak. "Our Health Minister, for instance, made a statement in the last 24 hours saying that India is better equipped to fight COVID in 2021 than in 2020. That's simply rubbish. We had India's Solicitor General telling the Supreme Court that there is no oxygen deficit as of now. That's simply not true." In an interview on GZERO World, Dutt tells Ian Bremmer that only the connection between fellow Indians, helping each other when the government cannot, has been a salve.

Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

Listen: Ask national security experts how they view China today and they'll likely the use a term like "adversary" or "economic competitor." But what about "enemy?" How close is the world to all-out-war breaking out between United States and China? According to US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), who served as Supreme Allied Commander to NATO, those odds are higher than many would like to admit. In fact, Stavridis says, the US risks losing its military dominance in the coming years to China. And if push comes to shove in a military conflict, it's not entirely clear who would prevail. Admiral Stavridis discusses his bestselling new military thriller 2034 and makes the case for why his fictional depiction of a US-China war could easily become reality.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What's the issue with the letter in France talking about the "civil war"?

Well, I think it is part of the beginning of the French election campaign. We have some people in the military encouraged by the more right-wing forces, warning very much for the Muslim question. That's part of the upstart to the election campaign next year. More to come, I fear.

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When asked about where a US-China war may start, US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.) doesn't hesitate: Taiwan. He suggests that China may believe the US is distracted by internal politics: "I think it would be a miscalculation on the part of the Chinese, but they may calculate that now is the moment." How would a move against Taiwan play out? Stavridis speculates how the Chinese military may plan to invade the island on the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which begins airing on US public television Friday, May 14. Check local listings.

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Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace. Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT/ 1pm ET

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Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace | Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT / 1 pm PT

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal