Excerpted from Bloomberg: These officials and other experts tracking the terror group tell us that the Islamic State’s Shura and Sharia councils, the advisory bodies that help inform the major decisions of the group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remain intact, notwithstanding one close call in November for Baghdadi. Although airstrikes and military campaigns have killed several regional administrators and designated “governors,” the Islamic State has quickly replaced them and maintains its command-and-control capabilities.
This assessment of progress against the Islamic State differs sharply from public statements by top Obama administration officials as recently as last month, including Secretary of State John Kerry and retired General John Allen, the president’s special coordinator for the coalition against the Islamic State. In February, Allen said that half the group’s leaders in Iraq had been killed.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference also in February, Kerry expanded that claim to account for the group’s leadership in Syria as well.
“We’ve disrupted their command structure, undermined its propaganda, taken out half of their senior leadership, squeezed its financing, damaged its supply networks, dispersed its personnel, and forced them to think twice before they move in an open convoy,” Kerry said.
Kerry and Allen haven’t since repeated that claim about the group’s senior leadership. U.S. military officials tell us no consensus intelligence estimate supports the claim that half the Islamic State’s leadership has been eliminated.
When asked about Kerry’s 50 percent claim, Army Captain John J. Moore, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told us: “We currently don’t have a percentage attached to that statistic.”
Experts told us Kerry’s estimate is tough to understand, because defining the Islamic State’s “leadership” is subjective. Cole Bunzel, a Princeton University scholar of Near Eastern Studies who closely follows Islamic State, said its leadership structure is opaque, and not much is known about the true membership of its Shura and Sharia councils, which play an important role in the organization. When the Islamic State has announced major decisions, such as its decision to expand into Syria or declare itself a caliphate, said Bunzel, it has made clear that one or both of those councils were consulted by Baghdadi.
“I am very skeptical of the claim that the coalition has killed 50 percent of the leadership of the Islamic State, whatever that means,” said Bunzel.
He later added, “The Islamic State has publicly announced when senior members of the group have been killed. But they have never talked about anyone in the core leadership being killed since 2010.” Keep reading