What Does Death Of Commander Mean For ISIS? A leader of the so-called Islamic State has been killed by U.S. special operations forces. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation about the implications for ISIS.
NPR logo

What Does Death Of Commander Mean For ISIS?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/407447294/407447295" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
What Does Death Of Commander Mean For ISIS?

What Does Death Of Commander Mean For ISIS?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/407447294/407447295" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. raid into Syria to capture a leader of the so-called Islamic State yesterday has raised questions about the structure and strength of the organization. According to senior administration officials, the purpose of the mission was to detain a man named Abu Sayyaf. He's said to be a senior ISIS leader who runs the group's oil and gas operations. According to the Pentagon, Sayyaf was killed when he engaged with U.S. forces. His wife Um Sayyaf was captured in the attack. Defense officials say she played an active role in ISIS. She's now being held in a U.S. military detention facility in Iraq. For more on the implications of this raid, we're joined by Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation. Thanks so much for being with us, Peter.

PETER BERGEN: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: The Obama administration is framing this as a big victory. Is it? How significant was this man, Abu Sayyaf?

BERGEN: Well, it's hard to kind of totally ascertain that. You know, anybody who sort of studies ISIS has basically never heard of him. But, you know, I think his significance is not really him, it's whatever records and computers and phones that were picked up on the raid. If indeed he was sort of the chief financial officer for ISIS. That would be a gold mine.

MARTIN: The U.S. could have used a drone strike to kill him. Clearly, they wanted to capture him. What made Sayyaf someone they would want to detain as opposed to kill?

BERGEN: Well, we've seen some reporting that he might have been involved in kidnapping, including Americans. So obviously, bringing to justice the people who killed Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff and Kayla Mueller is a very high priority for the administration. And of course, a bombing raid or a drone strike would, a, have killed him and also, importantly, it would have eliminated all the evidence that you pick up at the site. And clearly, there seems to have been a fair amount of that that the Delta Force group picked up before they left.

MARTIN: This appears, on the surface, to be a blow to ISIS. But the group has been making a strong play for important territory in Iraq, battling Iraqi forces for control of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. Can these one-off missions by U.S. Special Forces make a difference when ISIS clearly has resources to wage these big ground battles we've been seeing?

BERGEN: Presumably, they're going to be looking over their shoulders in a way that they weren't before this raid. I mean, it's not the first time we've seen a raid. There was, of course, the unsuccessful effort to free American hostages on July 3 of last year. And going back to 2008, there was also a raid in Syria. But, you know, if this became more of a patent, I think that would certainly change the calculus of ISIS, which has already had to change its calculus 'cause of the air raids.

MARTIN: But this is a nimble organization. As you've mentioned, they are able to recalibrate in order to adjust after.

BERGEN: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know - I mean, the Iraqi government has to hold to be sovereign as it needs to hold all of Iraq. ISIS can be opportunistic if it's losing somewhere, it can attack somewhere else. And if you do the math on the number of ISIS fighters who are killed every month in air strikes, it's about a thousand. On the other hand, they seem to be recruiting at about a thousand a month so it's sort of a wash. I think over time, the attrition rate will begin to kick in and - but we could be having this conversation two or three years from now, and ISIS could still be a relatively potent force.

MARTIN: Peter Bergen. His most recent book is called "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search For Bin Laden From 9/11 To Abbottabad." Thanks so much, Peter.

BERGEN: Thank you, Rachel.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.