Counter-terror chief: ISIS leader Baghdadi in Iraqi-Syrian desert, not talking16/2/2017
"He is very wise. He is not using any kind of communications. He is in the desert area, coming and going between Syria and Iraq, we believe,” Lahur Talabany, the director of the Kurdish Zanyari and Parastin Intelligence Agency and Counter-Terrorism Groups (CTG), told Reuters.
The news comes about two weeks after the Iraqi air force targeted a convoy of ISIS militant from Syria, which it believed included Baghdadi.
“The [unnamed] intelligence agency carefully watched a motorcade of the ISIS caliphate leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi travel from Syrian territory until they reached Iraq,” the Iraqi war media office reported earlier this month.
Coalition spokesperson Col. John Dorrian, speaking to Rudaw TV, could not confirm if Baghdadi was hit in the Iraqi airstrike, but, he said, the ISIS leader’s life is in great peril. There is a $25 million reward on his head and a lot of people looking for him. “He is going to have to hide and he has no chance of being able to be successful in doing that for too much longer.”
How much longer has been debated. US officials and analysts have warned that operations to militarily recapture western Mosul could last until at least mid-2017.
Talabany had no doubts that Mosul will be captured, but cautioned against what will be next.
“Mosul will get taken ... I think it is the asymmetric warfare that we need to be worried about," he said.
"Our jobs will become much more difficult. The army will take a rest a little, but it will be the job of security forces that will become more difficult."
The Iraqi army was the primary ground force in the east Mosul offensive with Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitaries clearing outlying areas with air coverage provided by the US-led international coalition.
Talabany said it will take months for security forces to clear western Mosul building-to-building, adding that he doesn’t believe anywhere near the estimated 6,000 ISIS fighters in Mosul at the start of the offensive have been killed.
"We know some of these guys escaped. They are trying to send people out for the next phase, post-Mosul, to go into hiding and sleeper cells," said Talabany.
"You have to try and find them when they go underground, you have to try and flush out these sleeper cells. There will be unrest in this region for the next few years, definitely."
With paths for ISIS to Syria increasingly being closed, Talabany said there are signs that ISIS fighters are sheltering in the Hamrin mountains between Tikrit and Hawija.
"It is a very tough terrain. It is very difficult for the Iraqi military to control," said Talabany. "It’s a good hideout place and a place they could have access from province to province without getting detected."