On Saturday night, U.S. Army Delta Force operators were able to capture important intelligence about the ISIS terror group during a raid to take down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including the capture of two of the terror group’s fighters.
The two captured ISIS fighters were found in Baghdadi’s compound and are being held prisoner in Iraq, according to the New York Times. U.S. intelligence officials believe questioning of these ISIS fighters as well as documents captured from Baghdadi’s compound in Idlib, Syria may provide important information about the terror group’s organizational structure.
In a Sunday press conference recounting the operation, President Donald Trump noted the take-down of Baghdadi was a key goal of his presidency and said the U.S. military and intelligence officials would continue to determine the terror group’s remaining leadership structure.
In the day after the raid against Baghdadi, a top ISIS spokesman and the expected successor to Baghdadi, Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, was killed in a U.S. airstrike while he was being smuggled across northern Syria. Despite this fact, unnamed U.S. intelligence sources speaking to the New York Times, said it is unlikely the captured intelligence will result in other immediate follow-up strikes against ISIS targets.
Those U.S. intelligence officials also told the New York Times they believe information captured from Baghdadi’s compound will likely indicate he had ceased to exercise direct leadership over ISIS and that the terror group had instead become decentralized.
“ISIS was a bureaucratic organization,” Nicholas J. Rasmussen, a former director for the National Counterterrorism Center, told the New York Times Monday. “Did he carry any of that stuff around? Rosters of people from other countries. Foreign fighters. Does he have all of that on a disk?”
Rasmussen said analyzing the captured intelligence is “all about building an understanding of the organization and how it functions.”
ISIS reportedly kept detailed records of its caliphate’s rule over Iraq and Syria and some intelligence officials told the New York Times that Baghdadi may have maintained a list of deputies, couriers and other key ISIS members.
“Capturing al-Baghdadi’s safe house means exposing data that will cause significant lasting damage to the broader terrorist network,” Ian Bremmer, the president of the Eurasia Group foreign policy consulting firm, said in a newsletter on Monday.
In his own recounting of the captured intelligence, Trump did not mention captured prisoners but did say the U.S. special operations forces that carried out the raid spent nearly two hours at the compound and were able to gather information about the origins of the group as well as its future operations.
The captured ISIS prisoners may yield even further information about the terror group, but a full accounting of the information could take months. If U.S. officials follow the Trump administration’s previous method of handling ISIS prisoners, the two captured ISIS fighters will likely be turned over to the Iraqi government for prosecution.
The Delta Force team that took out Baghdadi ended the mission by initiating an airstrike on the Syrian compound – a move that may have prevented ISIS fighters from enshrining Baghdadi’s home as a site in his honor. The airstrike may have also destroyed any vulnerable intelligence Delta Force could not take with them.