The US military has reportedly "doubled efforts" in the search for the leader of the Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the extremists were pushed out an iconic mosque in Mosul.
An Iraqi general told The New Arab on Friday said that at least 40 drones are surveying the desert region between Iraq and Syria for signs of Baghdadi and other top IS leaders.
Baghdadi's fate and whereabouts remain unknown since he appeared at Friday prayers at the Grand al-Nuri mosque in 2014, soon after IS seized Iraq's second city and called on all Muslims to obey him.
"Some of the drones are equipped with radar homing missiles, indicating that capturing Baghdadi is not important and that the main objective is getting rid of him by any means possible," the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.
"Tracking Baghdadi has purely been a US mission because of its capabilities and intelligence on his movements in comparison to Iraqis."
He added that it was possible that the extremist group has taken advantage of a dispute over the division of Syrian airspace between the US and Russia to flee to remote areas not under Washington's surveillance.
Earlier this month, Moscow said it had killed the IS chief along and up to 330 other fighters, although the vast majority of analysts have cast doubt on the claim.
There have been numerous false reports of Baghdadi's death since he declared the caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul's al-Nuri mosque back in 2014.
In March, senior US and Iraqi officials said Baghdadi had fled the Iraqi city of Mosul and was hiding out in the desert near the Syrian border.
An Iraqi military source at the time told The New Arab that the IS chief had been hiding out in one of four towns along the border region between Iraq and Syria, where his supporters are plenty and the potential for informers fewer.
The source said that Baghdadi was possibly hiding out in the western Iraqi towns of al-Baaj or al-Qaim with the other possibilities being the Syrian city of Deir al-Zour and town of al-Bukamal.
On Thursday, the Iraqi army recaptured Mosul's iconic Grand al-Nuri mosque, officially declaring an end to IS in Iraq.
The Battle for Mosul began over eight months ago and the jihadis have been making a last stand in the historic Old City.
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