WASHINGTON D.C., Oct 27, 2019, Asia Times. Officials in the United States military said an operation had been carried out targeting the head of Islamic State [forbidden in Rissia] in a raid in northwestern Syria, and if the operation had been successful, it would remove the spiritual leader of the group the US and its allies have been trying to defeat for several years, reported the Asia Times.
US officials said the target of the operation involving special forces was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, but there had been no confirmation so far if he had been killed in the raid.
The White House announced late Saturday that President Donald Trump would make a major statement on a foreign policy matter on Sunday morning, US time.
“Something very big has just happened,” Trump tweeted about 9:30pm on Saturday, but made no further comment.
AFP reported that helicopter gunfire early Sunday killed nine people near a northwestern Syrian village where “groups linked to the Islamic State group” were present, said a Britain-based war monitor with sources inside Syria.
The operation killed nine people including an IS senior leader called Abu Yamaan as well as a child and two women, but it was not immediately clear if Baghdadi had been in the area, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The helicopters targeted a home and a car on the outskirts of the village of Barisha in the northwestern province of Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, after US media said al-Baghdadi was believed to be dead after a US military raid in the same province.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the helicopters likely belonged to the US-led military coalition that has been fighting the extremist group in Syria. “We cannot confirm or deny that Baghdadi was in the area,” he said.
An inhabitant of a camp for the displaced on the outskirts of Barisha said he had heard unidentified helicopters around midnight, followed by what he described as coalition air strikes.
They “were flying very low, causing great panic among the people,” Ahmed Hassawi told AFP.
An AFP correspondent outside the village of Barisha in Idlib province saw what appeared to have been a minibus scorched to cinders by the side of the road.
A resident in the area who gave his name as Abdel Hameed said he rushed to the place of the attack after he heard helicopters, gunfire and strikes in the night.
“The home had collapsed and next to it there was a destroyed tent and vehicle. There were two people killed inside,” he told AFP.
The commander-in-chief of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces who have been fighting IS in Syria said the operation came after “joint intelligence work” with American forces.
“A historic operation is successful as a consequence of joint intelligence work with the United States of America,” he said on Twitter shortly after the news broke.
Turkey on Sunday said there was “coordination” between Ankara and Washington before the operation.
“Prior to the US Operation in Idlib Province of Syria last night, information exchange and coordination between the military authorities of both countries took place,” the Turkish defense ministry said in a tweet.
It did not give details.
Two officials in the US said the president’s announcement was tied to the raid carried out by special operations forces near Idlib in northwestern Syria. This is an area US forces have normally stayed away from because their operations against IS have been targeting the northeast of Syria.
Baghdadi is thought to be the ideological leader of the group and responsible for their reign of terror across Iraq and Syria. Tens of thousands have been displaced and there have been reports of widespread barbarism, including rapes and video-recorded beheadings.
These types of operations by US special forces – similar to the one into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011 – are highly risky and perilous as the troops involved have little if any back-up.
According to Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi researcher who monitors IS social media, the group did not confirm or deny reports of its leader’s death, but some supporters offered their condolences and prayers on the Telegram app.
If successful, the operation to kill Baghdadi would come at an opportune time for Trump, who was heavily criticized by both major US political parties, including senior Republicans, for his decision earlier this month to pull out US troops in northeastern Syria. Trump has now reversed that decision and announced about 200 US troops would remain in the area to guard oil fields.
There have been unconfirmed reports that Baghdadi killed himself before he could be captured by US special forces, which could make it difficult to confirm he had died.
Officials told ABC News that biometric work was underway to firm up the identification of those killed in the raid.
The US State Department had posted a US$25 million reward for information on his whereabouts.
In September, the group released an audio message said to be from Baghdadi praising the operations of IS affiliates in other regions.
Additional reporting by AFP