Baghdadi’s Death Strengthens the Case for American Forces to Remain in Eastern Syria

Kurdish Forces Tracked ISIS Leader and Supplied the DNA to Establish his Identity

The din of partisanship in Washington quieted briefly this weekend as figures across the political spectrum hailed the demise of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Early reports indicate intelligence cooperation from the Kurdish-dominated SDF was indispensable to the operation which killed al-Baghdadi, strengthening the case for American forces to remain in eastern Syria. 



On October 27, U.S. special forces carried out a nighttime raid on the village of Barisha in Syria’s Idlib province. They engaged and killed ISIS’s self-proclaimed ‘Caliph’, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died detonating a suicide vest that killed himself and three children. In certain respects, this marked the crescendo of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS campaign which successfully removed all territory in Syria and Iraq from the group’s control.

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who has clashed repeatedly in recent weeks with President Trump on both matters of foreign policy and the ongoing Democratic-led impeachment campaign, issued a statement saying: “Americans salute the heroism, dedication & skill of our military and our intelligence professionals.”

In a similar vein, Progressive Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar tweeted, “Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was an evil man and a terrorist, who terrorized the world with violence and a message of hate. The world is a safer place without him. We have deep gratitude for the brave men and women who carried out this dangerous operation.”

Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential nominee and often critical of President Trump, went further and praised the President’s role in the operation: “Al Baghdadi spread “fire and brimstone” on earth; now he feels it for himself in hell. To all who arranged his change of venue—the intel officers, the President, the warriors—thank you.”


Although President Trump reiterated his commitment to withdrawing American forces from the Syrian-Turkish border in a Sunday press conference, he also noted that Kurdish forces had been “helpful” and “worked incredibly” with American forces in providing necessary intelligence to carry out the operation. 

As details about the operation targeting al-Baghdadi spread, it became increasingly clear that Kurdish forces played a pivotal role in supplying the intelligence needed for locating the ISIS leader and even supplied the DNA that enabled American special forces to conclusively identify him post-mortem. In one interview, SDF military leader General Mazloum Abdi claimed his intelligence service had placed a source deep within al-Baghdadi’s inner circle who provided a detailed layout of the ISIS leader’s compound. This source proved to U.S. intelligence that he had direct access to al-Baghdadi this summer by providing blood and clothing samples belonging to him. 

While the President’s decisions can often come as a surprise to even his closest advisors, the bipartisan backlash to the initial withdrawal from Syria, coupled with Kurdish assistance in eliminating al-Baghdadi, will likely increase the political hindrances to ending the U.S. presence in eastern Syria.   

Indeed, just a few days before the President announced al-Baghdadi’s death, one U.S. Defense Department official noted, “We have begun reinforcing our positions in the Deir Ezzor region, in coordination with our SDF partners, with additional military assets to prevent the [local] oil fields from falling back into the hands of ISIS or other destabilizing actors.”