US forces killed two top Islamic State leaders in an airstrike in northern Syria on Thursday, two defense officials said, a day after a US raid killed an Islamic State smuggler.
The attack killed Abu ‘Ala, one of ISIS’s top five leaders and ISIS’s deputy leader in Syria, as well as ISIS official Abu Mu’Ad al-Qahtani Islamic State responsible for prisoners’ affairs, the officials said. The strike was carried out at 6:23 p.m. local time in Syria.
No American forces were injured or killed during the operation, and there was no damage or loss of American equipment from the strike.
US Central Command forces in the region spent more than 1,000 hours gathering intelligence on targets to limit the risk of collateral damage, officials said, and an initial assessment shows no civilians were killed. or injured, officials said.
The airstrike comes after the US military carried out a separate raid in northeast Syria that killed an Islamic State arms dealer on Wednesday evening local time, the Pentagon said in a statement Thursday. .
The United States has continued to pursue IS leaders in Syria, even as the terror group has shrunk to a fraction of what it was before. The consecutive raid and airstrike in such a short period of time represents an increase in the intensity of operations against the terrorist group and underlines the US emphasis on ensuring that ISIS does not increase. in strength.
“Last night, US Central Command forces carried out a helicopter raid in northeast Syria near the village of Qamishli, targeting Rakkan Wahid al-Shammri, an ISIS operative known to facilitate smuggling of weapons and fighters to support ISIS operations. During the operation, the targeted individual was killed and one of his associates was injured,” the statement said. on the raid of the US Central Command said.
CENTCOM added that no US forces or civilians were killed or injured during the operation.
Three defense officials told CNN that the weapons the target was smuggling were used to support ISIS operations.
One of the defense officials said the raid was a unilateral US operation and did not involve the coalition in defeating IS. The operation involved US special operations forces using helicopters.
The deconfliction line was not used to brief Russia ahead of the operation, an official said, both because of the location of the raid and its sensitivity.
“USCENTCOM is committed to our allies and partners in the enduring defeat of ISIS,” CENTCOM spokesman Col. Joe Buccino said in a statement.
Earlier Thursday, the Pentagon said a senior Islamic State official had been targeted, but declined to give further details.
Syrian state television said on Telegram that a US operation in northeast Syria had killed one person and accused the US of “kidnapping” several people.
The United States has prosecuted several senior ISIS operatives this year in Syria. In February, the United States carried out a raid in northwestern Syria in which ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed after blowing himself up. It was the largest US raid in Syria since the 2019 operation that killed former Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Qurayshi was named leader of the terror group in November 2019 at the same time ISIS confirmed Baghdadi had been killed.
The United States had known of its location for several months before the raid, officials said. He was locked up on the third floor of a building with his family, directing the operations of the terrorist group through a network of couriers. His deputy, who lived on the second floor, was also killed in the raid.
Since March, the leader of the Islamic State has been Abu al-Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, the group said, but it is believed to be an assumed name.
Several months after the Qurayshi raid, the US-led Joint Task Force fighting ISIS arrested another senior ISIS operative in Syria, Hani Ahmed al-Kurdi, known as Salim. And in July, the United States carried out a drone strike in northwestern Syria that killed Maher al-Agal, the leader of the Islamic State in Syria.
The operations in Syria come even as the Biden administration has tried to move the military from the Middle East – and from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and towards what the United States sees as the challenges of the future in an increasingly assertive China and a Russia willing to use force against its neighbours.
After the defeat of the self-proclaimed Islamic State caliphate in 2019, the group has continually sought to regroup, trying to challenge the US-led coalition to defeat ISIS. These efforts have included multiple attempted attacks on Syria’s al-Hol camp, which houses around 60,000 people. ISIS sees the IDP camp as a recruiting ground.
Last month, ISIS attempted to carry out a suicide attack on the camp, rigging two vehicles with explosives, according to the US Central Command. One vehicle exploded prematurely, while the other was intercepted by the Syrian Democratic Forces in partnership with the United States.
This story has been updated with additional reports.