The Trump tenure, which resulted in both the demise of the “caliphate” and “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, forced an estimated 62% drop in casualties and a 35% drop in incidents attributable to ISIS, according to the State Department’s Annual Country Reports on Terrorism. Under President Barack Obama, ISIS beheaded at least four times the number of civilians as under Trump, despite the fact that ISIS in its current state was founded with less than three years left in Obama’s tenure.
Under “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS controlled as much as 40% of Iraq, over 30% of Syria, and territory that 10 million people called home. It attracted pledges of allegiance from some of the world’s most brutal jihadists, like Boko Haram in Nigeria. In a little over a year of the establishment of the “caliphate,” it killed 10,000 people.
The end of the Obama era marked the brutality that came to define Islamic State propaganda: videos of beheadings of Americans and the burning alive of a Jordanian pilot who crashed in ISIS territory, as well as footage of jihadists beheading 21 Christians at once.
But the elimination of key propagandists under Trump resulted in the discontinuation of ISIS media products like the magazine Dabiq and its signature high-production-value torture and beheading videos. On the battlefield, ISIS lost the entirety of the territory it claimed as its “caliphate” thanks to a joint operation between the U.S. military and a majority-Kurdish anti-jihadist militia. The Wilson Center reported that the United States and its allies eliminated many senior leaders of al Qaeda and ISIS from September 2019 to August 2020.