National Security & Defense

Another One Bites the Dust

Abu Mohammed al-Adnani (State Department handout/Reuters)
Why the demise of Daesh leader Abu Mohammed al-Adnani is good but not great

Yesterday Daesh (also known as ISIS) announced the death of its second-in-command. Daesh’s news agency declared that Abu Mohammed al-Adnani has “dismounted his steed to join the caravan of martyred leaders.” Heady rhetoric. But that’s just Daesh’s way of saying al-Adnani was obliterated by a U.S. air strike.

There’s no doubting that this is good news for America and for the world. For years, al-Adnani has been the voice and soul of Daesh propaganda. Full of hatred for those who reject Daesh’s theological and political supremacy, al-Adnani had long called for brutal atrocities against those who refused to kneel. More specifically, al-Adnani fetishized the murder of innocent men, women, and children in the name of God. And, sadly, his sick messages of death attracted many losers to Daesh’s banner.

But it would be a mistake to judge al-Adnani solely by his inspiration-operations role. As Rukmini Callimachi has reported, al-Adnani also led Daesh’s external-activities division, directing Daesh infiltration operations and attack planning against the West. And on that count, whatever his moral rot, al-Adnani was highly successful. Today, at least some of his operatives remain at large, preparing to strike. In that vein, al-Adnani was to Daesh what Goebbels and Himmler were to the Nazis: a talented propagandist, and a conductor in slaughter. But fortunately, like both those fanatics, al-Adnani is now dead.

As such, while al-Adnani will now be replaced in short order, his importance to the organization should not be understated. The top scholar of Daesh, Kyle Orton, explained to National Review Online that al-Adnani “was likely being prepared to succeed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” Mr. Orton continued: “Daesh is a sophisticated bureaucracy where individuals are generally expendable, but with al-Adnani [and Baghdadi’s previous deputy], these are personnel losses that come with some cost to capacity.”

While al-Adnani will now be replaced in short order, his importance to the organization should not be understated.

But what’s also notable is that al-Adnani seems to have been killed in the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab. Intersecting a highway between the city of Aleppo and the Syrian–Turkish border town of Jarabulus, Al-Bab is a key Daesh logistics node. Daesh knows that the U.S. knows that. As an extension, Daesh would have known that Al-Bab was under heavy surveillance by allied intelligence services and possibly also Western special-operations forces. That al-Adnani apparently still traveled to Al-Bab at significant risk is thus telling. First, it indicates the priority Daesh leaders place on retaining territory surrounding their capital, Raqqah. The city is physically and psychologically crucial to the group, and its loss would be a major blow to Daesh. Second, al-Adnani’s truncated visit suggests that the group’s morale is low. As I outlined in 2014, Daesh is hypersensitive to ensuring the operational security of its leaders. It puts them in harm’s way only when it believes it must do so. He was probably sent to Al-Bab to wave Daesh’s stupid flag.

#related#Regardless, our happiness at al-Adnani’s death should not come at the cost of prudence, because Daesh remains exceptionally threatening in its intent and capability for mass-casualty attacks against the West. Indeed, in announcing al-Adnani’s demise, Daesh offered overt — and possibly covert — threats. Echoing what Osama bin Laden once remarked in regards to al-Qaeda, Daesh claimed its ultimate victory is inevitable because its fighters “love death more than [the West] love[s] life.” And perhaps referencing its recent slaughter of a French Catholic priest, Daesh threatened “carriers of the cross” (Christians and the West). Finally, in a possible reference to its November 2015 attacks on Paris bars and restaurants, Daesh also promised to “ruin [Western] nights.” Be under no illusions, these threats will be taken seriously by officers at MI5 and agents at the FBI.

Of course, at the crunch point, al-Adnani’s desolation is unequivocally good news. Like “Jihadi John” – a.k.a. “dust boy” — a murderous zealot has been cleansed from the face of the Earth. We should all welcome this victory for humanity.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at

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