US, British Special Forces on the Ground in Iraq Trying to Find ISIS Leaders

Not Much Known About ISIS Leadership

US and British special forces are on the ground in Iraq, according to new reports, with an eye particularly on identifying the so-called Jihadi John who beheaded James Foley.

British Ambassador to the US Sir Peter Westmacott claimed the nations are “close” to identifying the man, believed to be a British citizen, and there has been considerable speculation that he is Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, though this is not confirmed.

The most interesting part of this operation is that, including the unidentified Jihadi John, the US and Britain haven’t really conclusively identified many ISIS leaders, and don’t really have much understanding of how the group works.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the “caliph” of ISIS, is the leader. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. The speculation seems to be coming primarily out of the various ISIS recruitment videos, with the assumption that anyone who makes a lot of appearances is probably a “leader.”

This guessing about the leadership makes the US plans to start assassinating ISIS leaders in airstrikes dicey, at best, and seems likely to lead to a lot of claims of “top leaders” killed who were at best tangentially linked to the organization.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.