comscore U.S. forces kill senior Islamic State group leaders in Syria, officials say
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U.S. forces kill senior Islamic State group leaders in Syria, officials say

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U.S. Special Operations forces carried out two major strikes against the Islamic State group in northern Syria on Thursday, killing three senior figures responsible for arming and recruiting fighters and plotting attacks, according to American and Syrian Kurdish officials.

Taken together, the nighttime assaults dealt the Islamic State group its most punishing blow since a risky predawn raid in northwest Syria in early February by U.S. commandos resulted in the death of the terrorist group’s overall leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.

The twin attacks started early Thursday when Special Operations forces dropped from helicopters in northeastern Syria and killed Rakkan Wahid al-Shammari, who facilitated the smuggling of weapons and fighters to support Islamic State group operations, the Pentagon’s Central Command said in a statement.

The raid was a rare operation inside Syrian government territory and just a few miles from a Syrian airfield where Russian troops are based.

Several hours later, an Islamic State group deputy leader in Syria and a man responsible for the group’s prisoner affairs were killed in a U.S. drone strike in the country’s north, a senior U.S. military official said.

“This strike will degrade ISIS’ ability to destabilize the region and strike at our forces and partners,” Gen. Michael Kurilla, head of the Central Command, said in a statement.

Counterterrorism specialists said the American attacks hurt an effort by the Islamic State group to regain momentum in the region.

“To have killed ISIS’s deputy emir for Syria is a significant achievement given that Syria is clearly where ISIS is investing its resources most these days,” said Charles Lister, director of the Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism programs at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

Even if the Islamic State group no longer has the power to control a swath of territory the size of Britain, as it did in Iraq and Syria until 2019, the terrorist group has shown that it can still carry out devastating coordinated military attacks.

In recent weeks and months, its fighters in Iraq have killed Iraqi soldiers and police officers, beheading an officer on camera. In Syria earlier this year, the jihadists attacked a prison in an attempt to free thousands of their former comrades and occupied the compound for more than a week before a Kurdish-led military force supported by the United States drove them out.

The American attacks on Thursday came three weeks after the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Pentagon’s Kurdish-led allies in the region, completed a weekslong security operation through the sprawling Al Hol detention camp, in northeastern Syria.

The Syrian Kurdish forces arrested about 300 Islamic State group operatives living among the camp’s 60,000 detainees — family members of group fighters held there since the fall of the group’s religious state in 2019 — seized more than 50 pounds of explosives, and removed group supplies, Central Command said in a statement last month.

Some counterterrorism analysts suggested that the American attacks probably stemmed from evidence about the Islamic State group leaders’ location collected in the Al Hol sweep, including information obtained through interrogating group operatives who were arrested.

No U.S. forces were hurt or killed in the first operation, nor were any civilians in either of the attacks, U.S. officials said. In the first attack, the commandos also injured one of the Islamic State group operative’s associates and captured two more, Central Command said.

More information was available on the commando raid than the drone strike.

A Kurdish security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said airborne troops landed near a village outside of the city of Qamishli before dawn Thursday.

Syrian state television said that “U.S. occupier forces” carried out an air assault with the support of Syrian Kurdish forces and that one civilian was killed and others were kidnapped.

The independent North Press Agency in northeastern Syria said the raid took place in the countryside in Syrian regime territory near Qamishli. Control of the city is split between the Syrian government and U.S.-allied Kurdish Syrian opposition forces.

The North Press Agency quoted an unnamed witness as saying clashes between Syrian forces and gunmen suspected of Islamic State group ties killed a Syrian officer and injured several other security force members.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said U.S. forces raided a private home, killing a man living there and arresting family members. The group’s director, Rami Abdulrahman, said that after the airdrop, paramilitary fighters allied with the Syrian government opened fire at U.S. forces, who fired back, wounding several of the fighters.

The Syrian television channel Syria24 said residents of the village, Milouk Saraya, were warned through loudspeakers to remain in their homes with the lights off. It said a man suspected of being an Islamic State group leader, known locally as Abu Hayal, had moved to an abandoned house near the village several years ago.

Lister said the airborne assault was the first known U.S. counterterrorism operation in territory controlled by the Syrian government since 2008 and took place about 10 miles south of a Syrian airfield where Russian troops were located, Lister said. Russia is a Syrian government ally and has troops operating in the same areas as U.S. forces in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria.

A senior U.S. military official said the United States did not use a special hotline to alert the Russians before the nighttime raid. In previous U.S. operations in the country’s northwest, military officials have used the hotline to give Russians advance warning of an imminent American counterterrorism mission to avoid any accidental exchange between the two rival militaries.

“We will conduct operations where we need to if there is a threat against U.S. personnel, our allies or partners or our interests,” Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Thursday.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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