The man who commands coalition forces fighting Islamic State in Iraq has said that he is nearly certain that the group's leader is still alive.
Despite a $25 million USA bounty on his head, Iraq-born Baghdadi has avoided an intense effort to seek him out for six years or more, the report said.
"Do I believe he's alive? I don't think he's dead", Townsend said. But, he then added: "There are also some indicators in intelligence channels that he's alive". The U.K. -based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a monitoring group with extensive contacts in the country, said that one of its sources in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor had received information from within ISIS that Baghdadi was dead.
Russian officials said in June there was a "high probability" that al-Baghdadi died in a Russian airstrike on the outskirts of Raqqa, Syria, a month earlier.
The fate of IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still unknown even as Iraqi military spokesman said on Thursday the city of Tal Afar has been fully liberated.
"When we find him, I think we will try to kill him first, and there is no point in trying to catch him", he said.
Baghdadi declared an IS caliphate, or rule, in 2014. The U.S. -led coalition says it was not a party to the deal.
Townsend said he hopes the USA government works out an arrangement for a long-term military presence in Iraq to minimize the chances of another IS-like episode.
There have been several previous reports of Baghdadi's death.
These claims gained weight when ISIS insiders repeated the claim, and that the group had gone into hiding.
"The current administration has pushed decision-making down into the military chain of command", Townsend said.
"We have had a lot of experience in combat". "We are looking for him every day", he declared.