Britain's senior military officer is warning that the militant Islamic State group will regenerate its command even if it turns out that an American airstrike in Iraq killed key jihadist leaders.
Britain's Chief of Defense Staff, Nick Houghton, said Sunday that he could not confirm whether the U.S. attack late Friday near Mosul on a convoy of Islamic State vehicles killed the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
But Houghton said that even if Baghdadi were killed, he would not rush to the conclusion that it would be a "strategic reverse" for the insurgents.
"I can't absolutely confirm that Baghdadi has been killed. Even the Americans themselves are not yet in a position to do that," Houghton said Sunday in a BBC television interview.
"Probably it will take some days to have absolute confirmation. What I wouldn't want to do is sort of rush to the sense that the potential death of one of their totemic leaders is going to create some strategic reverse within ISIS," he said, referring to another name for the group. "They will regenerate leadership. It's because of the current potential attractiveness of this warped ideology, unless we get the political dimension of the strategy in place, then ISIS has the potential to keep regenerating and certainly regenerating its leaders."
Report: IS leader injured
Iraq, without elaborating, said Baghdadi was injured in the American airstrike, but U.S. officials did not confirm the report.
Houghton said that the role of the international coalition conducting airstrikes, which includes Britain, was to buy time for a political solution to be put in place, and to prevent IS becoming an "existential threat" to the region.
The hardline Sunni Islamic State's drive to form a caliphate has helped return sectarian violence in Iraq to the dark days of 2006-2007, the peak of its civil war.
Western and Iraqi officials say airstrikes are not enough to defeat the Sunni insurgents and Iraq must improve the performance of its security forces to eliminate the threat.
In an interview with the CBS program Face the Nation, President Barack Obama said airstrikes "have been very effective in degrading" the jihadists' capabilities and slowing their advance.
He said his deployment of an additional 1,500 U.S. troops to Iraq to train Baghdad's military marks a "new phase" in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Obama said the doubling of the American troop level will help Iraq go "on some offense," but repeated his stance that U.S. troops will not engage in ground fighting.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.