A recent airstrike by the United States killed a close aide to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State (ISIS), and reportedly injured Baghdadi
himself, but taking down a terrorist group's leadership is not enough to destroy it, The Atlantic
Past experience with other militant regimes serves as evidence that these groups tend to be robust even when key elements of their leadership are killed.
For example, in 2006, the Bush administration killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al-Qaida in Iraq, but the group not only survived but went on to form ISIS.
And despite the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, al-Qaida continues to have significant influence throughout northern Africa under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahri.
"The U.S.-led mission to degrade or destroy the Islamic State goes far beyond killing the group's top leadership. ISIS controls a large swath of land across Iraq and Syria, and has an estimated 30,000 fighters under centralized command," the Atlantic said, noting that both the Iraqi and Syrian governments have not been powerful enough to eliminate the group.
Injury to or the killing of al-Baghdadi "would be a coup" for the U.S., the magazine said, but one expert said it would hardly be a sufficient cause for victory.
"It will be cause for presidential speeches and commendations, but not the death of the Islamic State nor its loathsome ideology," Aki Peritz, a former CIA counterterrorism official, told the Atlantic.
In September, American airstrikes were successful in killing three top ISIS members
But the air war of late has been limited to the slow pace of Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground, and the offensive has been challenged by limited ground intelligence and target opportunities, The New York Times
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