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US-Led Coalition Captures Top ISIS Leader in Northern Syria

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Published: June 18, 2022
A coalition strike force led by the U.S. has secured an ISIS senior figure named al-Kurdi, known for his ambush tactics and explosive attacks on enemy forces. Despite his capture, the U.S. military warns that the fight is far from over. (Image: Steve McLeod [Defense Visual Information Distribution Service] via Wikimedia Commons Public domain)

On Thursday, June 16, a U.S.-led coalition reported that a strike force raided and captured a senior leader of the Islamic State (ISIS) in northern Syria, inflicting zero casualties. 

With the capture of another top ISIS leader, the coalition hopes to deal another blow to the infamous extremist organization.

High value target

According to officials familiar with the matter, the target, Hani Ahmed al-Kurdi, was known as “an experienced bomb maker and operational facilitator.” 

The man, al-Kurdi, also known as Salim, is believed to have  previously supervised several terrorist activities across northern Syria, where he would teach others to create explosive devices and expand facilities for improvised explosive devices. Moreover, he was also believed to have led attacks on U.S. forces and their allies.

He was also designated the “wali”, or governor, of the city of Raqqa, located east of Aleppo — the former de facto capital of the ISIS-proclaimed “caliphate.”

The mission to capture al-Kurdi was “meticulously planned to minimize the risk of collateral damage or civilian harm,” the coalition said in a statement. 

“The operation was successful; no civilians were harmed nor were there injuries to coalition forces or damage to coalition aircraft or assets.”

Raiding al-Humayra

The target, al-Kurdi was located in al-Humayra, a small village close to the Turkish border. 

According to a spokesperson for a Turkish-backed Syrian rebel group, Major Youssef Hamoud, U.S. troops landed near the village using Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters early in the morning.

“This is the first [U.S.] helicopter landing operation to happen” in areas under the [Syrian National Army’s] control, he said.  

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that fighting broke out between the U.S. task force and fighters inside the village for seven minutes before the soldiers raided a house at the edge of the village. Afterwards, the helicopters took off to land at a rebel base in the Kobane region.

Once the soldiers left, Youssef told AFP that the people went to look for the house they raided, finding that women were tied up and the children left in the field.

“They took one man with them, but we don’t know where the other men are. After we untied them [the women], they said: ‘They took a man named Fawaz’,” AFP reported. 

U.S. officials also confirmed that both armed forces and civilians did not suffer any losses.

“This operation in northeast Syria demonstrates our commitment to the security of the region and to the enduring defeat of ISIS,” said Army Gen. Erik Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command. Gen. Kurilla is currently in Tajikistan for a meeting with leaders in Central Asia.

According to the Wall Street Journal, two Russian fighters were present nearby, but officials could not confirm how close they were to the operation. Russian forces are currently operating in northern Syria, prompting the U.S. to cooperate with them to avoid any incidents.


ISIS still on the loose

Despite the organization’s official defeat in 2019, ISIS forces continue to persist throughout Iraq and Syria, fighting with guerilla tactics such as “hit-and-run attacks”, and ambushes.

In February, U.S. special forces conducted another operation in the Idlib province that took the life of top ISIS leader  Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who killed himself and his family by detonating a bomb in his hideout. 

ISIS has since named Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Quarayshi as his successor, but his identity remains vague.

A refugee called al-Hol, used for women and children after ISIS’ defeat, is believed to be a “mini-caliphate” where extremist ideals are taught.

Conversely, the U.S. has been criticized for the increasing loss of civilian lives during their continuing operations against ISIS targets. In 2019, a military airstrike in Baghuz, Syria, killed not only suspected ISIS fighters, but civilians — including children.

While al-Kurdi enters custody, military officials warn that the organization will continue to wreak havoc in Syria.