The raid that took the life of Abu Sayyaf, purported to be a senior ISIS commander and—specifically—responsible for their finance “portfolio,” is both surprising and to be congratulated.

I am writing this blog within about 12 hours of the raid becoming public and the big question is why? Why now, why him?

The need to use these kinds of capture or kill missions has been extensively discussed for years now. However, the fact is that President Obama never before authorized such missions (with the exception of Bin Laden, which was a special case).

So, why now?

Why not do what the US has been doing consistently and exclusively until now, which is to drop a bomb from the air in an effort to kill the man?

There are two potential answers:

  1. The President at long last understood that his policy of only killing these leaders from the air is sterile and with little risk to US lives but results in a huge loss of valuable intelligence. I doubt that. This President never learns. He is so arrogant that he simply cannot bring himself to accept that he made a judgment error. Since he is “never wrong,” change, of course, for him is not an option. Regretfully, therefore, do not expect such missions to become the norm.
  2. Intelligence value. There must be something that this guy had that is so valuable that the President was convinced by his national security team to make an exception.

As always, the pundits are full of speculations and always have views and, as always, not one of them makes any sense.

The pundit closest to offering a plausible suggestion is Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He indeed focused on the intelligence value and referred specifically to a list of “donors” to ISIS. I agree, of course, with the intelligence value point but I find the notion that there are long lists of donors to ISIS of material amounts all contained in a ledger somewhere under the control of Abu Sayyaf not very plausible. Maybe, but I doubt it. ISIS has not existed long enough and never had the opportunity of growing slowly and under the radar over many years. Al-Qaeda used the many years they had before becoming the most hunted group in the world to create a symbiotic relationship with such “donors.” Even donors to Al-Qaeda are now few due to international pressure.

No, I believe that the US is after bank accounts. While I am sure that ISIS keeps a lot of gold and cash, they must have money stashed away in many bank accounts all over the world. I would not be surprised if in the next few days and weeks we keep hearing of action to block accounts all over the world suspected of belonging to ISIS affiliates and/or under ISIS control.

If I am right—and if the amounts so blocked are substantial—that would be worthwhile.

P.S. Due to various reasons, this blog is being posted 10 days after it was written. In the meantime, no news has come out regarding any bank accounts being blocked anywhere in the world. So, it seems, that maybe I was wrong. If so, what was this mission all about? Could it be that it was actually a failure? That the goal was to capture someone else?