The Pentagon on Friday put the Islamic State’s top leader on notice that the allies are tracking him, saying it is only a matter of time before he is captured or killed by a drone-fired Hellfire missile.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi cleric who directed the rise of the Islamic State into a 25,000-person terror army, is now moving between his bases in Syria and Iraq, said Army Col. Steven Warren, the top military spokesman in Baghdad.
Col. Warren suggested Baghdadi’s demise may come soon given the facts that U.S. intelligence knows he is on the move between those countries and that the military has been able recently to pinpoint and kill members of his cabinet.
They include his war and finance ministers who played leading roles in recruiting foreign fighters and maintaining the so-called Muslim caliphate from Raqqa, Syria, to Mosul, Iraq.
“I hope al Baghdadi watches these press conferences because I want him to know that we are hunting him and we will find him just like we found his mentor, Zarqawi, and killed him, just like we found the grand mater of terrorism, Osama bin Laden. We killed him,” Col. Warren told reporters at the Pentagon via a tele-conference.
Zarqawi is Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian who founded the group al Qaeda in Iraq and was killed by a U.S. bomb strike in 2006.
The reclusive Baghdadi has proved to be an elusive target for over a decade. He was detained near Fallujah in 2004, but released because there was little evidence he participated in a then-growing insurgency.
He ended up as a top aide to Zarqawi and then became the leader of a new group, the Islamic State of Iraq. The Iraqis announced his arrest in 2010 but the captive turned out to be a different man.
With all U.S. troops gone from Iraq in 2011, Baghdadi mounted waves of suicide bombings against Baghdad. Next, he took advantage of the chaos of the 2011 civil war outbreak in Syria to move in, capture territory and start building the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS. In 2014, his forces invaded Iraq from Syria.
“We are going to find Baghdadi and he will taste justice,” Col. Warren said. “I don’t know if that justice will look like a Hellfire missile or if it will look like a dark prison cell somewhere but he will find justice one day. We know he’s alive …. We also believe he moves in-between Syria and Iraq.”
The U.S. says it is constantly learning more about how the Islamic State operates and thus is finding more targets to hit. It also has more tools with the creation of a special operations task force devoted to hunting down high-ranking terrorists. It is believed the task force killed the finance minister in Syria last month.
“We’re in the business of taking terrorists off the battlefield,” Col. Warren said. “And whether we take them off and slam them into a dark cell somewhere in the international courts or put a Hellfire missile at his location, either one of those would make us equally happy. But this is a terrorists who has to go. And this is a terrorists who should not sleep well ever. For two reasons. One, certainly his conscience will keep him awake for all the brutal acts he’s been behind. But more importantly, eventually some one is either going to come in the window and snatch him up or the entire house that he’s in will get reduced to rubble.”