Senior ISIS leader confirmed dead in Syria raid, US says

Centcom claims a helicopter assault led to the death of an individual responsible for planning terror attacks in the Middle East and Europe

Despite being defeated in Syria in 2019, ISIS continues to wage a low-level insurgency. AP
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A senior ISIS Syria leader has been killed after US forces conducted a targeted raid in the north of the country on Monday, Central Command says.

Washington could not initially confirm the killing, saying only that its operation resulted in the “probable death” of an unnamed ISIS member and two other armed people.

However, updates from Central Command reveal Abd-al-Hadi Mahmud al-Haji Ali, a leader it says was responsible for planning terror attacks in the Middle East and Europe, was the individual who had been successfully targeted.

The early-morning helicopter raid was launched after intelligence apparently revealed an ISIS plot to kidnap officials abroad as leverage for terror initiatives.

“Extensive planning went into this operation to ensure its successful execution,” Central Command added.

The US has about 900 troops in Syria in a mission focused on countering Iran-backed militias and preventing the resurgence of ISIS, in partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The terrorist group continues to wage a low-level insurgency across northern Iraq and Syria, and often attacks SDF members.

Washington has executed a series of counter-strikes against ISIS in recent weeks. This comes amid escalating tensions with Tehran after a drone attack killed an American contractor at a US base in Hasakah governorate last month.

In recent weeks, Centcom killed senior ISIS leader Khalid Aydd Ahmad Al Jabouri in Syria's north-west and captured an “attack facilitator” for the terrorist group.

“Within Centcom, there's a sense that we are at a critical point in the campaign against ISIS in Syria, says Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Washington based Middle East Institute.

"ISIS's highest level of leadership has been severely weakened and now is the time to cripple its mid-level operational command structure in Syria to have a truly long-standing effect," he told The National, discussing the Centcom strategy.

Centcom chief Gen Michael Kurilla told the House Armed Services Committee last month that ISIS would return to power in “one to two years” if the US were to withdraw from its mission in Syria.

"The high intensity of these targeted operations also clearly indicates a solid and actionable line of constant intelligence — in other words, we’ve penetrated key nodes of ISIS’s structure in Syria," Mr Lister says.

A similar campaign against the leadership of ISIS' predecessor in Iraq led to a dramatic fall in terrorist attacks, but the rate of operations against the group slackened following the US withdrawal from the country in 2011.

That, combined with a dysfunctional political situation in the country, allowed the group to regenerate.

"All of this is ’time is of the essence’ and each operation tends to open pathways for more. So in short, these are encouraging signs from a campaign combating ISIS's deeply-rooted terrorist insurgency," Mr Lister says.

The campaign "underlines the extent to which Centcom and CJTFOIR are keen to sustain that public sense of success and momentum," he adds.

Updated: April 17, 2023, 7:52 PM