Skip to main content

Baghdadi’s return heralds the Islamic State’s next act

By June 21, 2019June 11th, 2023Print

As published in the Washington Examiner:

HE’S BACK: As the end of the ISIS caliphate drew near, the hope that the group’s elusive leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi would be captured or killed began to evaporate. Now, after a five-year absence from public view, he’s back in the form of a video released by ISIS’ propaganda arm.

Baghdadi has been reported seriously wounded or killed several times over the years, notably by Russia, which said last year he died in an airstrike that targeted a gathering of senior ISIS commanders near the Syrian city of Raqqa. At the time, a Russian lawmaker quoted by the Interfax news agency said the likelihood he was killed was close to 100 percent.

But there he sat, cross-legged in a black tunic and military-style vest, his grey beard tinged with red, a Kalashnikov rifle at his side, urging his supporters to keep up the fight and, in what seemed like a last-minute audio addition, congratulating the Sri Lanka suicide bombers.

Chief Political Correspondent Byron York on the expanded Washington Examiner magazineWatch Full Screen to Skip Ads

“The battle of Baghouz had ended, and in it, the barbarity and savagery of the nation of the cross towards the ummah of Islam was clear,” Baghdadi said, referring to the final Syrian town the U.S.-led coalition took from ISIS in March. “As for your brothers in Sri Lanka, they have put joy in the hearts of the monotheists with their immersing operations that struck the homes of the Crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz.”

WHERE IS HE?: While U.S. commanders don’t think eliminating Baghdadi would be the end of ISIS, they were optimistic they would capture or kill him as the physical caliphate shriveled down to nothing. “We’ll get him,” retired Gen. John Allen told the CBS Sunday program “Face the Nation” last month. Allen was special presidential envoy to the global coalition to defeat ISIS under President Barack Obama.

It’s believed Baghdadi slipped away as the noose was tightening around the last ISIS fighters to hold territory in Syria and is now hiding in the desert somewhere in Syria or Iraq. “No, we don’t know where he is, and finding the top leadership of ISIS or other terrorist groups is always a priority,” Amb. James Jeffrey, the current envoy to the defeat-ISIS coalition, told reporters last month.

10,000 ‘UNREPENTANT’ ISIS FIGHTERS REMAIN: “The physical caliphate is defeated, but ISIS is not,” Michael Mulroy, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said at a forum yesterday. “There’s upwards of 10,000 ISIS fighters and support elements within Syria and Iraq. And they are completely unrepentant.”

Speaking at an event sponsored by the Center for a New American Security, Mulroy said ISIS is “something that we intend or expect to deal with for many years to come.”

MOVING BACK TO IRAQ: The latest biweekly report from the U.S.-led coalition, issued last week, had a curious anomaly. It listed 18 airstrikes against ISIS between April 7 and 20 — all in Iraq, none in Syria.

It turns out ISIS is on the move, largely decamping from Syria and trying to set up shop in the Kirkuk area of Iraq. “[R]emnant Daesh fighters have been attempting to move munitions, equipment, and personnel into Iraq in an effort to set conditions for their resurgence,” said a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve, using another term for ISIS.

“Although the territory once held by the so-called caliphate is fully liberated, Daesh fighters still exhibit their intention to exert influence and stage a comeback,” said Maj. Gen. Chad Franks, deputy commander-operations and intelligence for the coalition.

Good Tuesday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Kelly Jane Torrance (@kjtorrance). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email, and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter: @dailyondefense.

HAPPENING TODAY: Vice President Mike Pence travels to Norfolk, Va., this afternoon to tour the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, which is pierside at the Hangar Norfolk Naval Station. Pence will make remarks to ship officers and crew members, who may need a bit of a pep talk, given the current Trump administration plan to retire the carrier decades early to save money.

ALSO TODAY: Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran, nominated to be chief of naval operations, will no doubt be quizzed about the plans to mothball the Truman when he appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning along with Gen. David Berger, who is nominated to be Marine Corps commandant. Livestreamed at:

The current CNO defended the decision to decommission the Truman early in a speech to the Future Security Forum yesterday. “One thing that characterizes success and failure, I think, is our ability to just move,” said Adm. John Richardson. “The most mortal sin we can have right now is to stay stable or stagnant.”

POMPEO TOUTS PROGRESS WITH NORTH KOREA: While the second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was generally seen as a flop for its failure to reach any agreement on denuclearization, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argues that, in fact, a lot was accomplished.

Speaking at a forum sponsored by the Hill, Pompeo insisted real progress was made. “I know the rest of the world thinks differently. I had a chance to see what happened, both in the run-up to that, the conversations, the discussions that were had,” Pompeo said. “We came to a deeper understanding of the range of freedom, both sides, things we can do, what path we might use to unlock this going forward.”

“We’re confident that as we continue to apply the economic pressure to North Korea, that we’ll get another opportunity to unlock and get North Korea to denuclearize,” he said.

Asked if he might step aside from the negotiations, as North Korea has requested, Pompeo said, “The president gets to decide that. We don’t get to decide who my counterpart is. And President Trump gets to decide who will represent America. I still have the conn.”

NO RANSOM PAID: Pompeo skirted a question about whether North Korea billed the United States $2 million for the hospitalization of college student Otto Warmbier and whether the United States agreed and then reneged on the promise to pay.

“I think President Trump made clear, no time in this administration have we paid for any hostage to be released. And we have no intention of doing so,” Pompeo said. “We’ve been very successful at this approach. The previous administration took a different approach,” he added, an apparent reference to the hostage swap to free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network in Afghanistan.

WILSON’S WARNING: Outgoing Air Force Secretary Heather Wilsoncautions against the idea of a European military force separate from NATO, warning that it could harm all NATO member countries, my colleague Russ Read reports.

“Anything that Europe does to increase the percentage of its GDP that goes to defense is a good thing,” Wilson said yesterday during a talk at the Future Security Forum. She noted that most NATO member countries are not spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense. Only 7 of 29 members are meeting that goal set by the alliance, according to a NATO report released last year.

“But I think the most important thing for Europe to consider, and NATO has always thought this way, is that it is vital for the security of Europe to maintain the close connection with Canada and the United States,” said the secretary.

ARMY VET CHARGED: The Justice Department has announced the arrest of Mark Steven Domingo, a former U.S. Army infantryman, in a sting operation. Domingo is accused of plotting to bomb a white supremacist rally as retribution for the New Zealand mosque attacks.

Domingo, 26, who had combat experience in Afghanistan and allegedly discussed launching various terror attacks throughout Southern California, faces federal charges that he planned to detonate an improvised explosive device for the purpose of causing mass casualties, according to a Justice Department press release.

He was arrested Friday night after he received what he thought was a live bomb but in fact was a dummy device delivered by an undercover law enforcement officer as part of an investigation by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

MATTIS’ SUB ROSA EFFORTS TO THWART TRUMP: During his time as defense secretary, James Mattis sought to deflect President Trump from what he thought were ill-advised decisions in North Korea and Afghanistan by limiting his options, according to the New Yorker profileof national security adviser John Bolton.

Here are the salient paragraphs:McMaster also clashed with Secretary of Defense James Mattis. On numerous occasions, current and former officials say, Mattis tried to block White House initiatives, leaving McMaster caught in the middle. In the fall of 2017, McMaster was planning a private session to develop military options for the possibility of conflict with North Korea: a war game, with Trump in attendance, at the Presidential retreat in Camp David. McMaster asked Mattis to send officers and planners. Mattis ignored him. “He prevented the thing from happening,” the former senior Administration official told me. Later, Mattis kept General John Nicholson, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, from meeting with Trump. 

Mattis declined to comment for the record, but a former senior national-security official told me, without confirming any incidents, that a strategy had evolved. “The President thinks out loud,” he said. “Do you treat it like an order? Or do you treat it as part of a longer conversation? We treated it as part of a longer conversation.” By allowing Trump to talk without acting, he said, “we prevented a lot of bad things from happening.”

BORDER DEPLOYMENT ANNOUNCED: The Pentagon has announcedthat 320 more troops will be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border, following a request from the Department of Homeland Security for help responding to the “humanitarian crisis at the border.”

“Approximately 320 DoDO personnel will be required to support the DHS request for assistance through September 30, 2019, at an estimated cost of $7.4 M,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

The troops will assist Customs and Border Protection vehicles carrying migrants and offer administrative support, including providing meals and “monitoring the welfare” of those in CBP custody. They’ll also provide attorney support to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Pentagon said the personnel will not conduct law enforcement.

SOLDIER IDENTIFIED: The Pentagon has identified Pfc. Michael A. Thomason as the soldier who died Monday in Syria. Thomason, 28, from Lincoln Park, Mich., was said to have succumbed to wounds sustained from a “non-combat incident” in Kobani, Syria. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

The Rundown

Washington Examiner: Seth Moulton: Forget Space Force, we need a separate cyber force

Washington Examiner: State Department preparing for clash of civilizations with China

Breaking Defense: CNO: New Strategy Is To ‘Force Our Competitors To Respond’

Nikkei Asian Review: Crashed F-35A fighter jet located, US general says

Air Force Magazine: DOD Official: Ending US Support for Yemen Fight Would Worsen the Crisis

Bloomberg: Lockheed’s `Mad Al’ Rallies Retired Navy Admirals for F-35 Bid

Washington Examiner: Pompeo: Maduro loyalists looking for ‘golden ticket’ out of regime

Washington Examiner: Ex-aide says John Bolton ‘deep in his heart’ believes Trump ‘is a moron’

Wired: The Battle Of Winterfell: A Tactical Analysis



8:30 a.m. 300 First Street S.E. National Defense Industrial Association, the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, and the Air Force Association and the Reserve Officers Association forum on “Opportunities for Nuclear and Missile Defense Strategies: Two Perspectives.” Speakers: Rebeccah Heinrichs, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and James Miller, president of Adaptive Strategies LLC.

9 a.m. 2359 Rayburn. House Appropriations Committee Homeland Security Subcommittee hearing on DHS FY2020 budget. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies.

9:30 a.m SD-G50 Dirksen. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider the nominations of Adm. William Moran to be chief of naval operations and Marine Lt. Gen. David Berger to be promoted to general and Marine Corps commandant.

11 a.m. H-140 Capitol. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing on Navy Marine Corps Budget. Witnesses: Richard V. Spencer, secretary of the Navy; Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations; and Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps.

11 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. Army Secretary Mark Esperdiscusses the Army’s budget request, operational outlook, and role in America’s future defense at Brookings Institution.

2 p.m. 2218 Rayburn. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel hearing on “Feres Doctrine – A Policy in Need of Reform?” Witnesses: Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal, U.S. Army; Alexis Witt, widow of Staff Sgt. Dean Witt and advocate for Feres Reform; Rebecca Lipe, former Air Force judge advocate; Dwight Stirling, CEO of the Center for Law and Military Policy; and Paul Figley, American University Washington College of Law.

2 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Avenue N.E. Heritage Foundation discussion: “Bridging the Policy Gap Between North Korean Human Rights and Security Threats.”

2 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Avenue N.W. Brookings Institution discussion: “After the Caliphate: A Global Approach to Defeating ISIS.” Speakers: State Department Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan SalesDaniel Byman, senior fellow in the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy; and Bruce Jones, senior fellow at Brookings.

2 p.m. 2253 Rayburn. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. Defense Personnel and Family Support Center Director Brian Davis provides testimony on fiscal 2020 budget requests related to veterans’ readjustment benefits.

9 p.m. 1330 Maryland Ave. S.W. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks at an event to receive the Business Executives for National Security’s 2019 Eisenhower Award. Livestream at


10 a.m. 2359 Rayburn. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing on Pentagon’s proposed FY 2020 budget. Witnesses: Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan; Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and David Norquist, performing the duties of deputy secretary of defense.

10 a.m. 2118 Rayburn. House Armed Services Committee hearing on “National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activity in North and South America.” Witnesses: Adm. Craig Faller, commander, U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Terrance O’Shaughnessy, commander, U.S. Northern Command, and Kenneth Rapuano, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security.

2 p.m. 2118 Rayburn. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces hearing on “Army Modernization Programs.” Witnesses: Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology; Gen. John Murray, Army Futures Commander; Lt. Gen. James Pasquarette, deputy chief of staff, Army programs; Jon Ludwigson, acting director, contracting and national security acquisitions, GAO.

2:30 p.m. 2212 Rayburn. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness hearing on “Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request for Military Construction, Energy, and Environmental Programs.” Witnesses: Robert McMahon, assistant secretary of defense for sustainment; John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment, and energy; Alex Beehler, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and environment; Todd Mellon, performing the duties of principal deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations, and environment.

2:30 p.m. SR-222, Russell. Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces hearing on U.S. nuclear weapons policy. Witnesses: Ellen Lord, under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment; David Trachtenberg, deputy under secretary of defense for policy; Gen. Timothy Ray, Air Force global strike commander; and Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe, director, strategic systems programs.


9 a.m. Rayburn. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces hearing on “Department of the Air Force Acquisition and Modernization Programs.” Witnesses: Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition; Gen. James Holmes, air combat commander; Maj. Gen. David Nahom, Air Force director of programs; Lt. Gen. Anthony Ierardi, joint staff director; Vice Adm. Mathias Winter, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program office; Robert Daigle, director, Pentagon’s cost analysis and program evaluation office; Robert Behler, director, operational test and evaluation office; and Michael Sullivan, director, defense weapon system acquisitions, GAO.

9:30 a.m SD-G50. Dirksen. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider the nomination of Gen. James McConville to be chief of staff of the Army.


8:30 a.m. 300 First Street S.E. Mitchell Space Breakfast Series discussion “The Importance of Data in the Space Domain.” Speaker Maj. Gen. Kimberly Crider, mobilization assistant to the commander, Air Force Space Command. Register at


9 a.m. 801 Wharf St. S.W. Foundation for Defense of Democracies event “Rising to the Threat: Revitalizing America’s Military and Political Power.” Speakers include retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, former national security adviser; Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, U.S. Central Command head; Rep. Mac Thornberry, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee; and retired Lt. Gen. Ed Cardon, former U.S. Army Cyber Command head. Invitation only.

12 p.m. 800 M Street N.W. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Brookings Institution sponsor an invitation-only discussion on Operation Tidal Wave II and its role in the destruction of the Islamic State’s finances. Speakers: Retired Gen. John Allen, president of the Brookings Institution; David Asher, former State Department official and FDD senior fellow; and retired Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, former commander of the coalition against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Moderated by Nancy Youssef, national security correspondent at the Wall Street Journal.