Hard to imagine a soundbite that would make POTUS happier than this one.
As gratifying as Baghdadi’s liquidation is to the average American, imagine how much more gratifying it is to the mother and father of Kayla Mueller. Remember, Mueller wasn’t just “ISIS’s hostage.” She was Baghdadi’s personal hostage. He raped her repeatedly before she was killed by a Jordanian airstrike on the complex where she was being held in 2015. This was personal — enough so that the raid that targeted Baghdadi was reportedly named after Mueller herself.
How decisive was Trump in this instance relative to Obama in 2014? Hold that thought.
“[Baghdadi] either killed her or he was complicit in her murder,” Carl Mueller said. “I’ll let people who read this article make up their own mind how a parent should feel.”…
“We are so grateful for them … we are so grateful,” Marsha Mueller said. They were glad there was no loss of life on our side. They are grateful their daughter and the others who were tortured and killed by ISIS have not been forgotten.
“I still say Kayla should be here, and if Obama had been as decisive as President Trump, maybe she would have been,” Marsha Mueller said…
“He knows her story. He’s been briefed on it, and he knows, and that’s important to me,” Carl Mueller said. “I don’t think anything would have stopped him from getting this guy.”
That reference to Obama being indecisive refers to this Fox News piece from 2015, in which Catherine Herridge reported that the U.S. had astonishingly precise intelligence on Mueller’s whereabouts in May 2014 — allegedly down to the very building where she was being held. Herridge’s sources claimed that the Obama White House waited fully seven weeks to act, fearing that the intel wasn’t solid enough even though the rescue team thought it was sufficiently firm to justify going in. By the time they finally did go in, Mueller was gone. She was dead less than a year later and endured God knows what sort of terror at Baghdadi’s hands in the interim.
Was Trump more decisive in this case? He was certainly decisive this week, as the intelligence on Baghdadi’s movements suddenly ripened. Per the AP, the White House got word on Thursday that there was a “high probability” Baghdadi would soon be at the compound in Idlib. Military options were given to Trump on Friday and the raid came off on Saturday. No seven-week delay this time. The story of how the U.S. found Baghdadi goes back many months, though, and involves more than one canceled raid — and even Saturday’s raid might not have happened if not for Trump’s decision to pull American troops from the area in the aftermath of Turkey’s incursion. Military planners rushed in this case because the prospect of withdrawal made them fear this would be their last shot at Baghdadi.
But Mr. Trump’s abrupt withdrawal order three weeks ago disrupted the meticulous planning underway and forced Pentagon officials to speed up the plan for the risky night raid before their ability to control troops, spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared with the pullout, the officials said…
The military called off missions at least twice [over the past several months] at the last minute…
The final planning for the raid came together over two to three days last week. A senior administration official said that Mr. al-Baghdadi was “about to move.” Military officials determined that they had to go swiftly. If Mr. al-Baghdadi moved again, it would be much harder to track him with the American military pulling out its troops and surveillance assets on the ground in Syria.
As far as I’m able to piece it together, the timeline looks like this. On May 15th, the Kurds became aware that Baghdadi was in Idlib. The NYT claims that the information on Baghdadi’s general whereabouts came from a courier and one of Baghdadi’s wives, both of whom had been captured. From there, the U.S. worked closely with the Kurds in Syria and Iraq over the summer to pinpoint his precise location. Iraqi officials tell Reuters that a group of senior ISIS leaders captured earlier this year gave them various locations where they had met with Baghdadi in Syria; spies were sent to those locations and one of Baghdadi’s top aides was spotted in the Idlib marketplace, with the spies eventually following him to the home where Baghdadi was staying.
But wait. We’ve known where he was for several months and only now, under pressure, took a shot at him? Why the delay? An NYT reporter explains:
4. Had he been tipped off that something was afoot? Did he find it odd that his trusted courier and one of his wives had gone silent? It’s unclear. But we know that geopolitically everything changed this month, when a presidential phone call led to Turkey’s invasion of Syria
— Rukmini Callimachi (@rcallimachi) October 27, 2019
We were waiting for him to move. But in the end we were the ones who were moving, withdrawing from northern Syria amid the Turkish offensive. So we decided to pay Baghdadi a visit before we left, even though the compound was deep inside territory controlled by jihadis.
And not just him. Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, the man who was cracked up to succeed Baghdadi, was in the back of an oil truck yesterday being smuggled across northern Syria to get him out of harm’s way. Too late: It seems we were tracking him too and dropped a missile in his lap en route. It’s unclear who the next in line to the throne is with both Baghdadi and Muhajir dead, but whoever it is may not have long to live either.
The lack of a designated caliph doesn’t mean the group won’t take advantage of U.S. withdrawal from the area as the Kurds end up with little choice but to retreat as well. But that also helps explain why the Kurds curiously remained so willing to cooperate with us in targeting Baghdadi even though they were furious at being abandoned by Trump. If ISIS is destined to regroup and threaten the Kurds again, better that they try to do it after all of the old experienced hands at the top of the organization have been lopped off. Killing Baghdadi and his lieutenants was a supreme example of U.S. and Kurdish interests aligning even as Trump has decided that we should go our separate ways.
Exit question via Politico: Did Trump cough up too many details about the raid in yesterday’s press conference? Some military sources are groaning about tactics he revealed, like U.S. troops blowing through walls to enter the compound for fear that the entrance was booby-trapped. Or Trump offering the number of helicopters used *and* the fact that they used precisely the same route into and out of Syria. “I don’t know why the f— he would say that, honestly,” a former special operations commander told Politico. “If we’re doing the same approaches and egresses, that can get helicopters shot down. It’s happened in Afghanistan.”