"Quite honestly, I don't know," Townsend said. "I hope he's deader than a doornail. If he's not, as soon as we find out where he is, he will be."
Doornails are known to be among the deadest object on earth and none have ever made it back to the world of the living.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) told Reuters on Tuesday that it has "confirmed information" from Islamic State sources [who never fib] in the sleepy little town of Deir al-Zor that Baghdadi has died, but didn't specify when.
But Townsend noted that Baghdadi has been reported dead more than once in the past leading highly religious Islamists to posit that he must have come back from death to carry out the work of Allah.
"The Russians some weeks ago claim to have killed him in an airstrike," Townsend said. "I've received some reporting since then that suggested he was not killed there by the Russians, but I don't know," he said as he steepled his fingers in thought. "Since then, we've heard all kinds of reporting that he's alive, that he's dead."
During the interview Townsend said, "I don't have a reason to believe that he's alive. I don't have proof of life, you know." A reporter pressed him about whether it was his "assessment" that Baghdadi had indeed died.
Townsend leaned slowly into the camera and said, "I. Don't. Have. A. Clue."
If Baghdadi, a PhD from the Islamic University in Baghdad, is dead, it would be a blow to ISIS, but Townsend said he isn't sure it really makes a big difference in the larger scheme of things.
"I suppose it probably doesn't really matter if no one knows if he's alive or dead," Townsend said. "Someone is guiding ISIS, the organization. And what we have seen with all these paramount leaders is you take them out, and someone else steps up."
"It would make me feel better to know that he was dead," he added.
UPDATE: at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET, SOHR confirmed that al-Baghdadi is dead.
"(We have) confirmed information from leaders, including one of the first rank, [ISIS territory] in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor" Rami Abdulrahman, the Director of SOHR told Reuters.
But this hasn't been confirmed by Amaq, the official news agency of ISIS.
SOHR's sources didn't say how or when al Baghdadi died, but he was supposedly living in the Deir Ezzor are for the last three months.
The Pentagon, Kurdish and Iraqi sources immediately said they couldn't corroborate the SOHR report.