There is much to say about the raid that killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and even more to learn.
Begin with congratulations to the unknown military and intelligence personnel who pulled it off. The skill and bravery of the planners and the troops on the ground were essential to the success of the mission. It was extremely risky, like the surprise attack in 2011 that resulted in the death of Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. The eight helicopters faced gunfire on their way to al-Baghdadi’s compound in northern Syria. And President Donald Trump was right to prioritize the pursuit of the murderous al-Baghdadi. His extreme brutality in beheading captives and setting others on fire, all captured on video, was an effective recruiting tool for jihadists to join his caliphate and a stark warning to Western powers.
But while the world can find relief in his demise, we all must understand the many lessons that emerged from the raid.
Its success doesn’t mean the fight against ISIS is over. Cells of fighters, large and small, lurk all over the world. Our nation must stay vigilant and continue to pursue any future leaders of ISIS. A positive sign: The day after the raid that killed al-Baghdadi, another American attack apparently killed his likely successor.
We need allies. Going it alone doesn’t work. American intelligence officials worked closely with their Kurdish and Iraqi counterparts to pinpoint al-Baghdadi’s location. The Kurds, in particular, provided essential information, despite Trump’s decision earlier this month to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and abandon the Kurds.
We need strong, effective intelligence agencies. Trump has attacked them incessantly and tried to weaken them, but it was information gleaned by the CIA about al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts that set in motion the planning for the raid.
Trump should not have kept House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the dark about the raid. The idea that she would have leaked that information is absurd. She was on the House Intelligence Committee for years, has no record of divulging classified material and is second in the line of presidential succession. If Trump excluded her and other Democratic leaders because of the impeachment inquiry, it’s another unfortunate example of politics infecting national security.
Our Middle East policy is still unclear. While the raid succeeded, pulling out from Syria earlier this month forced the Pentagon to speed up the attack before the military’s ability to control spies on the ground and reconnaissance in the air was compromised. And Trump decided to leave some troops in Syria, after the blowback from his own party on the pullout, to protect oil fields there. That’s a good goal; ISIS funded itself with oil exports from wells it seized. But Trump also suggested that the United States would take some of the oil. That’s illegal. Language is important; it feeds perceptions the world has of our nation. The president must be more careful.
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