US says helicopter raid kills 2 Islamic State officials in Syria

Military says one of those killed was involved in plotting attacks; UK war monitor reports Kurdish forces participated in operation, no civilians hurt

Illustrative: A Blackhawk helicopter lands next to an Apache attack helicopter at a US military base at undisclosed location in Eastern Syria, November 11, 2019. (Darko Bandic/AP)
Illustrative: A Blackhawk helicopter lands next to an Apache attack helicopter at a US military base at undisclosed location in Eastern Syria, November 11, 2019. (Darko Bandic/AP)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — American forces on Sunday killed two Islamic State terrorists in eastern Syria in a helicopter raid, US Central Command said in a statement.

IS sleeper cells continue to carry out deadly attacks in Syria and Iraq. For a few years, the group ruled swathes of both countries, but lost its last stronghold in 2019.

US Central Command did not specify the location of the overnight operation and claimed there were no civilian casualties in its initial assessments of the operation.

The statement described one of the two targeted IS leaders, identified only as “Anas,” as an “ISIS Syria Province official” involved in plotting attacks in eastern Syria.

“ISIS 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 officials will disrupt the terrorist organization’s ability to further plot and carry out destabilizing attacks in the Middle East.”

Kurdish forces also took part in the raid in the village of Al-Zer in eastern Deir el-Zour, said the UK-based war monitor group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The terrorists refused to turn themselves in before US helicopters fired at the house they were in, it added.

There are some 900 US forces in Syria supporting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in the fight against IS. They have frequently targeted IS terrorists mostly in parts of northeastern Syria under Kurdish control.

On November 30, IS announced that leader Abu al-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 Daraa.

US troops and Kurdish fighters resumed joint patrols in northeastern Syria after a temporary halt following a series of Turkish airstrikes against Kurdish-led forces.

Turkey said it launched strikes on Kurdish fighters’ positions in northern Syria and Iraq on November 20, after a deadly bombing in Istanbul last month that it blames on Kurdish groups.

Ankara says it has struck positions of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which dominate the SDF, but which Ankara sees as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that it was imperative the Kremlin “clear” Kurdish forces from the border area of northern Syria.

The SDF has warned that a threatened Turkish ground incursion would jeopardize the fight against IS.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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