Delta Force Commandos Kill Key Islamic State Operative in Rare Syria StrikeWASHINGTON, May 16 (UPI) — A moderate value Islamic State leader and several militant fighters were killed early Saturday, and the leader’s wife was captured during a rare raid into eastern Syria by U.S. special forces, the Pentagon and White House said.
IS commander Abu Sayyaf, who is said to have played a “senior role” in the group’s oil and gas operations, was killed in the al-Amr raid when he “engaged U.S. forces,” officials said.
Sayyaf’s wife, Umm, who “played an important role” in IS activities, was placed into a U.S. military detention center in Iraq, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan, said in a written statement.
The White House said President Barack Obama ordered the operation after a unanimous recommendation from his national security team and “sufficient intelligence,” officials said.
Saturday’s was the first successful U.S. ground forces raid since the Pentagon launched military action against the terrorist group last year. Two dozen Delta Force commandos entered Syria via Black Hawk military choppers and V-22 Ospreys, and the fight involved fierce hand-to-hand combat, the New York Times reported. Several items were seized from the building, including laptop computers and cellphones, the Pentagon said.
“This operation was conducted with the full consent of Iraqi authorities and, like our existing airstrikes against ISIL in Syria, consistent with domestic and international law,” Meehan said. The Islamic State is also known as ISIS in Syria, ISIL in Libya, or Daesh in many circles.
Several weeks ago, U.S. commando raids failed on three separate occasions attempting to free American hostages in Syria and Yemen. Defense analysts said that while Sayyaf’s elimination is important, it’s not a “game changer” in the fight against the IS.
Officials said Sayyaf helped oversee gas and oil operations, which are a key source of revenue for funding the militant group. He also played a role in the group’s military activities, officials said, and his wife “played an important role in ISIL’s terrorist activities.”
Although Sayyaf was called a senior IS leader, some analysts consider him a mid-level player in the radical organization. One expert likened him to being Al Capone‘s accountant, the Times report said, and easily replaceable.
During the operation, Special Forces also rescued an 18-year-old Yazidi woman, who appeared to have been held as a slave by the couple.
“We intend to reunite her with her family as soon as feasible,” Meehan said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said no U.S. forces were injured or killed in the operation.
The operation indicates that Defense officials are becoming more aware of the group’s activities and gathering more valuable intelligence on the seemingly omnipresent radicals.
One official said the military’s Delta Force utilized deadly force on the complex that housed Sayyaf, but displayed pinpoint surgical accuracy in the strike — saying the Islamic fighters defending Sayyaf used women and children as human shields against encroaching forces. But the U.S. special forces team managed to “separate” the innocents from the radicals.
“The operation represents another significant blow to ISIL, and it is a reminder that the United States will never waver in denying safe haven to terrorists who threaten our citizens, and those of our friends and allies,” Carter said.
Saturday’s raid followed weeks of surveillance on Sayyaf and critical intelligence passed on to the Central Intelligence Agency by a growing network of informers in Syria, officials said.
The White House also discredited an earlier report that claimed the raid had been carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.
“The U.S. government did not coordinate with the Syrian regime, nor did we advise them in advance of this operation,” Meehan said. “We have warned the Assad regime not to interfere with our ongoing efforts against ISIL inside of Syria,”