WASHINGTON — An Obama administration official today declared that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is “in deep, deep hiding,” and “we also know he hides with slaves and all sorts of terrible things.”
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk appeared at the beginning of the daily briefing at the White House to give an update on the status of operations.
Sirte, Libya, a “strategic location on the Mediterranean,” he said, “is no longer accessible to ISIL terrorists.”
“And we’ll of course continue to support the Government of National Accord as pursues ISIL throughout the country. In Raqqa, Raqqa remains ISIL’s administrative capital and is under more pressure now than ever before. Forces partnered with our coalition have now entirely severed routes between Raqqa and ISIL locations in Iraq, and the Syrian democratic forces, a coalition of local Arabs and Kurds are steadily advancing on Raqqa, with the aim to isolate or really strangulate,” he added.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian forces, has cleared nearly 450 square miles north of Raqqa since beginning the operation a month ago.
In the second month of the Mosul campaign, McGurk said, “we’ve seen a very steady and delivered advance along all axis against ISIL terrorists, which are using the civilian population in Mosul as human shields.”
“Throughout this campaign, which began just a couple months ago now, we’ve already conducted over 500 airstrikes, destroyed about 100 car bombs, 100 tunnels, 300 bunkers and this is ongoing every single day. We’re often asked how long this is going to take, and the answer is, in Mosul, it will take as long as it takes,” he said, noting that past ops against ISIS such as the liberation of Kobane have taken around six months.
“Eventually they reach a culmination point, they simply cannot resupply, they run out of suicide bombers and they culminate. And in Mosul, we don’t know when that will come. It could come very soon, it could come a couple months from now, but our momentum will be sustained and we’ll provide — provide relentless pressure on the enemy throughout Mosul.”
McGurk stressed that Baghdadi has not been seen on video “in well over a year,” and though he issued an audio statement last month “issuing audiotapes deep in hiding is not really the sign of a competent leader, particularly in today’s media age.”
“So eventually we will find and eliminate him as well, but the leadership ranks continued to diminish,” he added. “…The number of battle-ready fighters inside Iraq and Syria is now at its lowest point that it’s ever been. We estimate about 12,000 to 15,000, and ISIL is unable to replenish its ranks.”