ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been “dismantled,” with tens of thousands of its jihadist fighters dead, but a promising lead on its leader “went dead” after a media leak, according to a key U.S. military official.
“We have absolutely dismantled his network,” Gen. Tony Thomas, speaking of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, said at the Aspen Security Forum. “I mean everyone who worked for him initially is dead or gone. Everybody who stepped to the plate the next time [is] dead or gone. Down through a network where we have killed, in a conservative estimate, 60,000 to 70,000 of his followers, his army.”
In a wide-ranging interview moderated by Fox News' Catherine Herridge, Thomas, who leads the Special Operations Command, said his team was “particularly close” to Baghdadi after the 2015 raid that killed ISIS oil minister Abu Sayyaf. That raid also netted his wife, who provided a wealth of actionable information.
“That was a very good lead. Unfortunately, it was leaked in a prominent national newspaper about a week later and that lead went dead,” Thomas said. “The challenge we have [is] in terms of where and how our tactics and procedures are discussed openly. There's a great need to inform the American public about what we're up to. There's also great need to recognize things that will absolutely undercut our ability to do our job.”
Thomas appeared to be referring to a New York Times report in June 2015 that detailed how American intelligence agencies had “extracted valuable information. New insights yielded by the seized trove – four to seven terabytes of data, according to one official – include how the organization’s shadowy leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, operates and tries to avoid being tracked by coalition forces," the Times reported.