According to U.S. and Iraqi officials, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic state, has fled Mosul, leaving operational commanders and diehard followers behind to fight the losing battle for the city.
Intelligence officials have not been able to locate al-Baghdadi, but were able to come to the conclusion that he’s fled the city using intelligence sources available to them, as well as extrapolating from an end of formal leadership communications coming from inside the city. Those elements combined with a significant loss of ground to coalition and Iraqi forces, left intelligence officials able to say with near certainty that al-Baghdadi has left Mosul to ensure his own survival.
Sources in Mosul say al-Baghdadi has proven to be an elusive target since the campaign to retake the city began. He rarely uses communication systems that can be monitored and has been known to move about frequently, never staying in one place long enough for coalition forces to strike. Intelligence reports suggest that he primarily resides among sympathetic civilians, rather than among ISIS fighters, making it more difficult to identify him and more dangerous to innocent lives when planning an attack.
According to intelligence sources, al-Baghdadi has not released a recorded speech since November, two weeks after the battle for Mosul began, where he called on ISIS combatants to fight the “unbelievers” and to “make their blood flow like rivers.” They believe the group’s leader has become increasingly isolated as Mosul continues to fall to Iraqi forces.