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Clinton wants to take out ISIS's leader like Osama bin Laden. Here's why that'll be tough.


Clinton wants to take out ISIS's leader like Osama bin Laden. Here's why that'll be tough.

Watch:  The hurdles of finding and killing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Hunting down and killing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi --the leader of ISIS -- will be a top priority for Hillary Clinton if she's elected president.

During a presidential forum on CNN last week, Clinton said a cornerstone of her plan to defeat ISIS would be targeting Baghdadi, "just like we did with [al Qaeda leader] Osama bin Laden."

That likely means a type of military operation similar to the ones that killed bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders -- one that relies on special forces and targeted drone strikes rather than a large military offensive.

Why Clinton is focusing on al-Baghdadi

Clinton's idea to rely on this type of operation lines up well with her overall military strategy for ISIS because she says she'll never launch a large-scale deployment of American troops on the ground on Iraq. 

And Clinton's line that she'll take down Baghdadi the same way she helped take down bin Laden is good for her politically -- a reminder that she was in the situation room with President Obama when a team of Navy Seals ambushed bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

By invoking bin Laden, Clinton attempted to contrast her experience as the nation's top diplomat with her opponent, Donald Trump. Trump, she said, has never served public office -- and "has no plan" to defeat ISIS.

Hurdle one: Is Baghdadi alive?

But there are a few hurdles Clinton will have to surpass if she wants to take down al-Baghdadi -- the first being that there are conflicting reports of whether Baghdadi is even alive. 

The <b>International Business Times</b> reported on these conflicting reports in June, when some Arabic media and al-Amaq -- an outlet with ties to ISIS -- reported that al-Baghdadi was killed in an airstrike. Before that, in May,  the Guardian reported  al-Baghdadi had been "incapacitated" for two months due to spinal injuries from an airstrike.

Take death reports with a grain of salt

Experts warned American media to take these reports with a grain of salt, and the Obama administration has not commented on them either way. But Azzedine Layachi, a Middle East expert and professor at St. John's University, said anything could be possible.

"It's very hard to say whether he's alive or dead," he said. "It could very well be that he's either dead and already a new commander has been in place in secret, or that he's still alive and commanding the troops."

Hurdle 2: The risk of special ops missions

The U.S. military's use of special forces has grown exponentially since 2001, <b>writes Linda Robinson</b> at the RAND Corporation.  Most Americans associate those forces with the type of covert, nighttime manhunts that took out Osama bin Laden.

While special ops are "a cheap way and less risky way" alternative to  troop missions, they can sometimes be a bit of a crapshoot, said Layachi.

"We've heard the news about the failed rescue attempt in recent days of the two professors in Afghanistan where the special forces failed to get them out," he said, referencing the recent failed rescue attempt  of two American University of Kabul professors. 

"These operations are very risky, and they could succeed like the Osama bin Laden capture and killing, or they could fail."

Hurdle 3: Killing the leader, not the ideology

Even if the first two hurdles are surpassed -- if al-Baghdadi is indeed alive, and is eventually killed in a special ops mission -- there are concerns that it wouldn't make much of a difference in defeating ISIS. At this point, ISIS is a fully fledged organization with a successor plan likely in place, and a hateful ideology that has inspired thousands.

In other words, it's not going down without a fight.

It might sound good -- something that's made for the movies. But it's not reality.
Azzedine Layachi

"There have been many leaders who have been taken out -- Al Qaeda and also ISIS -- and that has not stopped the movement because these organizations are also led by smart people who make sure that there is a continuation beyond them,"  Layachi said. "To stop ISIS in its tracks ... would take more than taking out the leader."

No one directs or inspires attacks against the United States and gets away with it.
Hillary Clinton

Clinton wants to send a message

To be fair, Clinton did not imply that killing al-Baghdadi would take down ISIS entirely. But she said it would be worth it to send a message to America's enemies. 

"I believe it will send a resounding message that nobody inspires or directs attacks against the United States and gets away with it," she said.

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