US commandos capture six ISIS officers in raids in Syria

US commandos capture six ISIS officers in raids in Syria

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WASHINGTON — For the second time in just over a week, U.S. special forces carried out helicopter strikes against the Islamic State in eastern Syria, this time arresting six agents, including a senior official the military said was involved in planning and facilitating terrorist attacks .

The Pentagon’s Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops in Syria, said in a statement Tuesday that the primary target of three predawn raids over the past 48 hours was a senior Syrian provincial Islamic State official operating under the name of de Guerre al-Zubaydi is known.

Last Sunday, American commandos from helicopters swooped down on another ISIS official known as Anas, killing him and an associate in a nearly three-hour firefight in eastern Syria, the military said.

In this week’s attack, personnel from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, America’s counterterrorism partner in northeastern Syria, were escorting US troops, the military said.

“These partnered operations reaffirm Centcom’s unwavering commitment to the region and the enduring defeat of ISIS,” Gen. Michael E. Kurilla, the command’s chief, said in a statement. “The capture of these ISIS operatives will hamper the terrorist organization’s ability to further plot and conduct destabilizing attacks.”

No Americans were injured in the raids, officials said. An initial assessment showed that no civilians were killed or injured, the military statement said.

The fact that the Pentagon dispatched commandos to kill or capture Islamic State officials rather than deploying a less risky drone operation hinted at their importance.

The United States has been working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight the Islamic State in Syria for years, and several hundred US forces remain in the group’s controlled territory in northeastern Syria near the Turkish border.

But that partnership has infuriated Turkey, a US ally and member of NATO, which sees Syria’s Kurdish fighters as part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. The group has waged a bloody, decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state aimed at gaining independence or greater autonomy. Turkey, the European Union and the United States consider the insurgent group known as the PKK a terrorist organization.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a spate of airstrikes against Kurdish militants in northern Syria in recent weeks, warning that a ground operation will soon follow.

The SDF briefly suspended the joint anti-terrorist operation with the United States, suspecting an impending Turkish attack. Fearing the loss of their key counter-terrorism partner in the region, American officials rushed to defuse tensions, at least for the moment, and operations soon resumed.

This month’s raids were the first major American anti-terrorist operation in northeastern Syria since US special forces launched two strikes against ISIS in October, killing three senior figures responsible for arming and recruiting fighters and the planning attacks were responsible, according to American and Syrian Kurdish officials.

Late last month, Islamic State announced that its leader, whose identity is still unknown, was killed in combat less than nine months after taking over the terrorist organization.

A spokesman for the central command confirmed in a statement shortly after the IS announcement that its leader, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, had been killed by anti-government rebels in southern Syria in mid-October.

The two former ISIS leaders were killed in separate raids by special forces on safe houses in northern Syria. Islamic State also named a successor last month but provided no information about him other than a nom de guerre.

The leadership change, announced through a voice message on Telegram, came at a time of extreme weakness for the group, which in just a few short years has been reduced from the world’s most feared terrorist network to a low-level insurgency struggling to maintain its prominence in most rural parts of conflict countries.

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