Is ISIS leader Baghdadi alive? "I don’t have a clue," says commander of anti-ISIS coalition
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. military is pushing back against a report released Tuesday indicating that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed.
In June, the Russian Defense Ministry said that it might have killed Baghdadi when one of its air strikes hit a gathering of ISIS commanders on the outskirts of the Syrian city of Raqqa — the de-facto ISIS capital. But the Pentagon still hasn’t been able to corroborate the ministry’s claims.
In Tuesday’s briefing, Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commanding officer in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS, said he doesn’t have proof that Baghdadi is alive, but also said he had received a report suggesting Baghdadi wasn’t in fact killed by the Russians.
“Despite all the helpful reports to us from every source imaginable, I’m unable to confirm or deny where he is, or whether he is alive or dead. Let me just say for the record, my fervent hope is it is the latter,” Townsend said in Tuesday’s briefing.
“I don’t know how to say it any other way… I don’t have a clue. Simple as that. So, don’t know if he’s alive. Don’t know if he’s dead. I don’t know where he’s alive. I don’t know where his dead body is. I don’t have a clue. I’m not trying to message anything,” added Townsend.
Townsend stressed, however, that he has heard about the conflicting reports on Baghdadi’s state and hopes that he is “deader than a doornail,” warning that the U.S. military would go after Baghdadi and kill him if they found proof that he was still alive.
But Townsend also added that he was worried about the prospects of ISIS being led under a new leader now, and how the organization may not want to confirm Baghdadi’s death, as it would “be a blow to the enemy’s morale.”
“[W]hat we have seen with all these paramount leaders is you — you take them out, and someone else steps up. So, if he is dead, that means someone’s running ISIS. And I — I think that they’re trying to keep it — his death quiet for their own morale…It would probably uplift I think our partners,” he said.
“As far as the prosecution of the enemy’s plans, I’m not so sure that it does matter. We have a succession of command. They have a succession of command. And I think they would implement it,” said Townsend.
Other U.S. officials whom ABC News reached out to couldn’t confirm if the Syrian Observatory for Human Right’s claim was accurate.
Baghdadi’s’ death would be one of the biggest blows to the jihadist group, which is struggling to defend its shrinking territory in Syria and Iraq.
In December, the U.S. State Department put out a $25 million reward for his capture, the same amount as it had offered for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, saying Baghdadi and ISIS have been “responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians in the Middle East, including the brutal murder of numerous civilian hostages from Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.”
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