U.S.-led coalition forces in northern Syria successfully captured a top Islamic State terrorist group leader in the early morning hours on Thursday.
Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the name of the U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS announced the operation on Wednesday evening. OIR did not identify the ISIS leader but said “the captured individual is an experienced bomb maker and operational facilitator who became one of the top leaders of Daesh’s Syrian branch,” referring to the ISIS terror organization by its Arabic acronym.
The Wall Street Journal subsequently reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials, that the captured ISIS senior leader is Hani Ahmed al-Kurdi, also known as the “Wali of Raqqa,” referring to an ISIS-appointed position similar to a mayor.
OIR provided few specific details about the operation to capture al-Kurdi, but said, “The mission was meticulously planned to minimize the risk of collateral damage or civilian harm. The operation was successful; no civilians were harmed nor were there injuries to Coalition forces or damage to Coalition aircraft or assets.”
Officials who spoke with the Wall Street Journal said two Russian Su-34 fighter jets appeared near the scene of the operation but left after two U.S. F-16 fighter jets responded moved in over the area where the raid was taking place.
The Thursday morning raid is the first major known U.S. operation against ISIS since the U.S. special operations raid on the then-highest ranking ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, in February. The raid on Al-Quarayshi ended when he detonated a suicide bomb, killing himself and several civilians. The ISIS territorial caliphate fell in the Spring of 2019 and al-Qurayshi’s predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in a U.S. special operations raid, in Syria, in October of 2019. Al-Baghdadi similarly killed himself with a suicide bomb as special operations troops closed in on his position.
Despite the loss of its territorial holdings and the deaths of its leaders, remnants of ISIS continue to operate in Iraq and Syria. After the collapse of its territorial caliphate, many ISIS supporters were taken prisoner in Syria and Iraq. U.S. officials have warned that the prisons currently holding the ISIS detainees could become an incubation chamber for the group’s resurgence. In January, ISIS fighters staged a prison break in a Kurdish-controlled area of Syria, allowing hundreds of prisoners to escape.
An offshoot of ISIS, known as ISIS-Khorasan or ISIS-K, has also taken root in Afghanistan and is fighting against the Taliban government that now controls the country.
“Coalition forces will continue to work with our partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces, including the Peshmerga, to hunt the remnants of Daesh wherever they hide to ensure Daesh’s enduring defeat,” the OIR statement concluded.