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US special forces 'seeking to capture IS leader Baghdadi alive'

IS overran large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014 [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 January, 2019

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US Special Forces, accompanied by SDF soldiers, are searching for the chief of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq, a senior Iraqi military official revealed to The New Arab.

US Special Forces are searching for the chief of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq, a senior Iraqi military official revealed to The New Arab.

The team tasked with locating IS leader Abubakr al-Baghdadi is the same previously assigned to locate and eliminate former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, northeastern Pakistan, the Iraqi security expert, Ahmad al-Hamdani, said.

The US team, accompanied by an armed unit of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an Arab-Kurdish alliance of fighters battling insurgents in the region, is settling the IS leader within an area of 10km in the Deir az-Zour province, the source said.

"The information we have is that the US military wants al-Baghdadi alive, which may explain the entry of US special forces into Syrian areas that can be considered military zones, as well as the delay in resolving the entry of Kurdish militias to the remaining villages and small Syrian towns,”  al-Hamdani said.

Commenting on Washington's eagerness to arrest al-Baghdadi alive, the official said, "It may have something to do with the current situation of US President Donald Trump and his need for a positive event in his favour in the US,” he suggested, noting it may also be linked to the need to question and interrogate the militant leader.

The official confirmed the mission to locate Baghdadi is being led the United States, “so talk about the role of Russian or Turkish involvement is not true,” he added. 

The United States heads a military coalition striving to drive the Islamic State out of Iraq and Syria, from where the jihadist group has launched numerous attacks abroad, mostly in Europe, in recent years. 

IS fighters first swept into Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014, taking control of nearly a third of the country. At the height of the group's power its self-proclaimed caliphate stretched from the edges of Aleppo in Syria to just north of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

With its physical caliphate largely destroyed, IS is transforming from a "proto-state" to a covert "terrorist" network, "a process that is most advanced in Iraq" because it still controls pockets in Syria, according to a UN report.

The UN report said IS may still have up to 30,000 members roughly equally distributed between Syria and Iraq.

Baghdadi has been pronounced dead on several occasions, but an Iraqi intelligence official said in May that he remains alive in Syrian territory by the Iraqi border

Baghdadi was said to move around with only a small group of followers.

Originally from Iraq, Baghdadi has been dubbed the "most wanted man on the planet" and the United States is offering a $25 million reward for his capture.

One of his sons was killed in July after he reportedly carried out a suicide attack against regime troops in rural Syria, IS announced.

In August, Baghdadi called on Muslims to wage "jihad" in a purported new audio recording released on the occasion of Eid al-Adha

The Telegram message was the first known to be released since another was broadcast in September last year, and comes as IS has lost most of its territory in Iraq and Syria.

"Those who forget their religion, patience, jihad against their enemies, and their certainty in the creator's promise lose and are disgraced," the leader said.

"But when they hold on to it, they are mighty and victorious, even if after a certain time."

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