United States forces have killed two members of the ISIL (ISIS) armed group in eastern Syria in a helicopter raid, the US military said in a statement on Sunday without specifying the location of the overnight operation.
The forces “conducted a successful helicopter raid in eastern Syria at 2:57am (23:57 GMT)… killing two ISIS officials,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement, using an alternative acronym for ISIL.
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It claimed there were no civilian casualties in its initial assessments of the operation.
One of those killed was identified by a first name, “Anas”, the CENTCOM statement said, adding that he was involved in the group’s deadly “plotting and facilitation operations in eastern Syria”.
The killing comes less than two weeks after ISIL announced that its leader Abu Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi was killed in battle. The US said al-Qurayshi was killed in an operation conducted by rebel forces in the southern city of Deraa in October.
Little had been known about Abu Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who took over the group’s leadership following the death of Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, his predecessor, in a US raid in February in northwest Syria’s Idlib province.
Al-Qurayshi is believed to be a nom de guerre that various ISIL leaders have adopted.
The ISIL group, which captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014, was defeated by an international military coalition led by the US. The armed group lost its last stronghold in 2019 but ISIL sleeper cells continue to carry out deadly attacks in Syria and Iraq.
“ISIS [ISIL] continues to represent a threat to the security and stability of the region,” CENTCOM spokesman Joe Buccino said in the statement.
“The death of these ISIS [ISIL] officials will disrupt the terrorist organisation’s ability to further plot and carry out destabilizing attacks in the Middle East.”
— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) December 11, 2022
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said it was the “most prominent” anti-ISIL operation for at least three weeks. It added that Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) troops were also involved in the raid, but Al Jazeera could not independently verify the information.
There are some 900 US forces in Syria supporting the SDF forces as part of the international coalition fighting against ISIL remnants. They have frequently targeted ISIL fighters, mostly in parts of northeastern Syria under Kurdish control.
The Turkish operations in northern Syria targeting SDF forces have put US personnel at risk and have threatened to destabilise the situation in Syria.
US troops and SDF fighters resumed joint patrols in northeastern Syria after a temporary halt following Turkish attacks across the border in Syria.
Turkey blamed the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which forms a bulk of the SDF, for the November 13 Istanbul bombing that left six people dead.
Ankara considers YPG as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a bloody armed rebellion in the country’s southeast.
The PKK is designated as a “terrorist” organsition by Turkey as well as its NATO allies the US and the European Union.