A Special Forces unit has successfully executed a counterterrorism operation in north-west Syria.
The Pentagon has confirmed that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of extremist group ISIS, has been killed after US Special Operations forces under the control of US Central Command conducted a counterterrorism mission in north-west Syria on the evening of Thursday (3 February).
No US casualties were reported following the operation, during which al-Qurayshi detonated an explosive device, killing himself and members of his family.
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin lauded the efforts of personnel.
“The professionalism, skill and readiness of our troops — honed through relentless rehearsal — has dealt ISIS a severe blow and has helped make our country and our fellow citizens safer,” he said.
Al-Qurayshi, also known as Hajji Abdullah, was known to provide operational guidance to ISIS fighters, which included the recent raise on Hasakah prison, controlled by Kurdish forces, and attacks on Yazidis in Iraq.
“He is now off the battlefield and out of command, and cannot threaten any more lives,” Secretary Austin added.
The Defense Secretary lamented the deaths of civilians during the operation, stressing that US forces were committed to avoiding civilian harm.
“This operation was specifically designed and conducted in a manner to minimise civilian casualties,” he said.
“We know that al-Qurayshi and others at his compound directly caused the deaths of women and children last night.
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“But, given the complexity of this mission, we will take a look at the possibility our actions may also have resulted in harm to innocent people.”
Secretary Austin went on to acknowledge the ongoing threat posed by ISIS in the region.
“The fight against ISIS continues. Their leader may be gone, but their twisted ideology and their intent to kill, maim and terrorize still threaten our national security and the lives of countless innocents,” he said.
“We saw that evil determination in full display during the Hasakah prison break and the fighting that ensued.
“And so, we will stay at it … encouraged by the bravery we witnessed last night and emboldened by the knowledge that ISIS, though still very much a viable threat, is now weaker.”
According to Evan Kohlmann, chief innovation officer at risk intelligence firm Flashpoint, the death of al-Qurayshi would not leave a “palpable impact” on ISIS operations.
“An October 2019 raid resulting in the death of former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi forced a reorganisation of leadership roles but did not lead to the demise of the organisation itself,” Kohlmann observes.
“Given Abu Bakr served as ISIS leader during a five-year period that were among the most prolific years in the group’s existence, yet his death forced only a reorganisation of leadership, it is unlikely that that al-Qurayshi’s death will have a major impact on ISIS operations.
“… Despite al-Qurayshi being the leader for less time and with few noteworthy achievements to speak of, there is always the lingering possibility that the vacuum created by his death may lead to more capable, and ruthless, individuals taking the reins of ISIS central commend.”
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