Reporter's Notebook: Covering the elusive al-Baghdadi and his reign of terror for years

News of the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by U.S. Special Operations Forces on Sunday was for me, as it was for many, of real interest. My teams and I have been some of the few who have seen his and his terror group’s handiwork, first-hand.

We visited sprawling refugee camps in Iraq, filling up from the waves of terror and displacement ISIS unleashed on the northern part of the country. Cute kids, not knowing of the horror and death happening around them, having fun and playing games with us.

We saw the handful of Christian towns there especially targeted by al-Baghdadi and ISIS. Crosses and churches destroyed. A target range in place of a courtyard of reflection. Graffiti scrawled across the face of the Savior in paintings.

Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, Nov. 2016. (Fox News)

Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq, Nov. 2016. (Fox News)

W.e were with the ragtag but immensely brave Kurdish fighters, putting their lives on the line as they did through this whole struggle, hunkering down in fox holes, aiming at an unseen terror enemy. Yes, they were fighting for their land. But, they were also fighting against ISIS foes judged by the world as some of the most evil around.

We were on the ground when word first came of what a true and present danger to the West al-Baghdadi’s group could be, when the horrible video was released of the execution of American journalist James Foley. Some of the first U.S. bombing runs against the group then took place, and some real fears emerged of a new threat outside the boundaries of the Mideast region.

There were other battles between the U.S., the allied Kurdish fighting forces and ISIS that we watched over the coming months and years in Iraq and Syria.

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We also had a horrible view of the damage from al-Baghdadi and his group of terror thugs in countries far from the blood-stained sand of the Mideast. We walked among the overturned Paris café tables, shot up and ransacked by terrorists fighting for the same twisted principles and sometimes in the very name of al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State. We saw thousands lay flowers, shed tears and remember the fallen in other terror sprees in Brussels, Belgium. And, we stood in the middle of a Christmas market in Berlin, an obvious target of a maddened truck driver who couldn’t serve with al-Baghdadi’s fighters in the Mideast but nonetheless could kill elsewhere. All of this, egged on by al-Baghdadi’s nasty digital message.

A church destroyed by ISIS, Iraq 2016 (Fox News)

A church destroyed by ISIS, Iraq 2016 (Fox News)

Finally, I also was reminded of another first-hand terror experience. We were on the ground in Abbottabad, Pakistan, shortly after Al Qaeda founder Usama bin Laden met his bloody end in 2011, also at the skilled hands of U.S. Special Operations Forces. At the time, the event was hailed as a great victory against terror. The hope was it could slow down, even stop, the nasty swath of bloodshed.

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As we’ve learned since then, it did not. We’ve seen larger menacing forces at work in the world.

Maybe that’s the most salient thought to be left with on this huge news day: a job well done by our brave fighting service members and important allies, but a crucial job surely not completely done.

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