The Atlantic

The ‘Caliphate’ Is Gone. Where’s the ‘Caliph’?

As the war on the Islamic State moves into a new phase, its leadership tries to adapt.
Source: Giuseppe Cacace / AFP / Getty Images

As the last shred of Islamic State territory in Syria fell to Kurdish-backed forces this month, thousands of people, including fighters, fled the enclave or surrendered. Yet when the exodus was over and the “caliphate” was extinguished, a mystery lingered: Where was the “caliph”?

“We don’t know where he is,” James Jeffrey, the U.S. special envoy to the global coalition to defeat ISIS, told reporters on Monday. Asked whether finding him was a priority, Jeffrey responded: “Finding the top leadership of ISIS or other terrorist groups is always a priority.”

In the four and a half years since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi indulged in a rare public appearance, in Mosul, to declare a caliphate—the last part of that period with a $25 appeared on a recording last summer, urging followers to wage attacks independently, and he hasn’t been heard from publicly since.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic8 min readPolitics
The Thing That Determines a Country’s Resistance to the Coronavirus
The major dividing line in effective crisis response will not place autocracies on one side and democracies on the other.
The Atlantic6 min read
The Routines That Keep Us Sane
More than most, writers have experience with what the poet May Sarton called “a limbo that needs to be patterned from within,” and they provide us with some relevant case studies in how to weave that pattern.
The Atlantic7 min readPolitics
How Donald Trump Could Steal the Election
The president can’t simply cancel the fall balloting, but his state-level allies could still deliver him a second term.