‘We’ll just try to kill him’: US vows to hunt ISIS leader Baghdadi to the death
Coalition admits it does not know whereabouts of militant leader, but suspects he is hiding in mid-Euphrates valley
Washington : The leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is probably still alive and hiding in the border area between Syria and Iraq, a senior US general has said.
As the Iraqi prime minister declared victory over Isis in the city of Tal Afar on Thursday, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend told reporters that his forces were continuing the search for the elusive figurehead of the militant group.
“We’re looking for him every day. I don’t think he’s dead,” said Townsend, the commander of the counter-Isis coalition in Iraq and Syria.
Although he admitted that he did not “have a clue” about Baghdadi’s precise whereabouts, the coalition believed he may have fled to the mid-Euphrates valley region between Syria and Iraq after Isis forces were slowly driven out of their strongholds in Mosul, Raqqa and Tal Afar.
“The last stand of Isis will be in the middle-Euphrates river valley,” Townsend said.
“When we find him, I think we’ll just try to kill him first. It’s probably not worth all the trouble to try and capture him.”
Despite a $25m US bounty on his head, Iraq-born Baghdadi has avoided an intense effort to seek him out for six years or more.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a longtime monitor of the conflict, said in mid-June that it had heard from senior Isis leaders in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province that Baghdadi was dead.
The Russian army said in mid-June that it was seeking to verify whether it had killed him in a May air strike in Syria.
“I’ve seen no convincing evidence, intelligence, or open-source or other rumour or otherwise that he’s dead … There are also some indicators in intelligence channels that he’s still alive,” said Townsend.
Earlier, the Iraqi leader, Hayder al-Abadi, said the northern town of Tal Afar had been liberated from Isis along with most of the Nineveh province, although fighting continued in the small town of al-Ayadiya.
Tal Afar had become the next target of the US-backed war on the jihadist group following the capture of Mosul, where it had declared its “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
“Tal Afar has been liberated,” Abadi said in a statement. “We say to the Islamic State fighters: wherever you are, we are coming for you, and you have no choice but to surrender or die.”
The defeat in Mosul, Nineveh’s provincial capital, marked the latest in a string of territorial losses for the group. However, the militants still control areas on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border.
This includes Hawija, a city between Mosul and Baghdad that Iraqi officials have said will be the coalition’s next target.
The Iraqi army dropped millions of leaflets over Hawija on Thursday, warning residents it was preparing an offensive to recapture the city from Islamic State, the military said in a statement.
The leaflets urged residents to stay away from militants’ headquarters, to drop weapons and turn themselves in to avoid being killed.
Iraqi forces had been waiting to clear al-Ayadiya, 11km (7 miles) north-west of Tal Afar, before declaring complete victory in the offensive. Islamic State militants had retreated to the town.
Divisions from the Iraqi army and federal police, backed by units from Shi’ite paramilitaries, retook al-Ayadiya on Thursday, military officers told Reuters, after several days of unexpectedly fierce fighting.
Pockets of resistance remained and Iraqi forces were still working to clear the remaining militants from the town.
“We have to make sure that no more terrorists remain hiding inside the town’s houses,” Lieutenant Colonel Salah Kareem told Reuters.
Source : The Guardian