For some time, it was believed that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was hiding somewhere along the Iraqi-Syrian border.
The news that he was killed in Idlib province, in the northwest of the country, had many analysts scratching their heads. Idlib is under the control of Hayat Tahrir a Sham, a rebel group with ties to Al Qaeda. While the militant jihadist groups have plenty in common ideologically, for years years, ISIS and al Qaeda (and its affiliates) have been locked in bitter fighting in Syria. It would seem an unlikely hiding place for Baghdadi, particularly in a village just 3 miles from the Turkish border.
Moreover, in order to move from the Euphrates Valley to Idlib, Baghdadi would potentially have had to pass through areas under the control of Kurdish and Turkish or regime forces.
The death of Baghdadi would be an important symbolic victory against ISIS. At this stage, the group should really change its name. It no longer resembles a state, but rather a grouping of local insurgent cells. That is not to minimize the danger it can still present, capitalising on security vacuums that exist in Iraq and Syria and on its numerous affiliates in Africa and Asia.
For President Trump this is a huge boon, particularly as it comes on the heels of US troops pulling out of Syria. Trump has faced huge criticism domestically and internationally for the withdrawal, in part because it was seen as raising the possibility of an ISIS resurgence. Baghdadi’s death would give him an opportunity to deflect such criticism and take credit for the decimation of ISIS, though that process actually began well before his time.