U.S. kills Daesh leader in Syria

US Central Command announces the death of Maher al-Aqal, one of the terrorist organisation's top five leaders, after a drone operation in northwest Syria

AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN  -   US military armoured vehicle in Syria

Maher al-Agal, ISIS leader in Syria and one of the organisation's top five international leaders, was hit Tuesday by a drone strike by US forces in the northwestern Syrian province of Aleppo. The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement. 

"This operation was extensively planned to ensure its successful execution. An initial review indicates that there were no civilian casualties," the document released by the US military said. 

According to Syrian civilian sources, a drone strike targeting two people on motorbikes was reported in the early morning hours in the village of Galtan, in the Jindires area. A region on the outskirts of Afrin canton in Aleppo province, which, until the end of 2018 was controlled by the People's Protection Units (YPG), and is now under occupation by Turkish troops. 

Shortly afterwards, reports from the Syrian Democratic Forces (the SDF, which refers to the military alliance of Kurdish, Arab, Assyrian and Armenian forces, among others, involved in the Syrian civil war) confirmed the attack and pointed out that the people hit belonged to the Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sharqiya. These same sources, as well as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, have reported that leader Maher al-Agal died on the spot, as did his companion, a close associate of the leader whose health was initially in serious doubt. 

PHOTO/REUTERS - File photo. A Daesh member waves the Daesh flag in Syria

"The elimination of these ISIS leaders will disrupt the terrorist organisation's ability to plan and carry out further attacks," CENTCOM spokesman Joe Buccino said. "This operation reaffirms CENTCOM's strong commitment to the region and to the lasting defeat of ISIS, which continues to pose a threat to the United States and its partners." 

The news comes just a day before US President Joe Biden lands in Israel, from where he plans to begin a round of Middle East meetings, with stops in the West Bank and Saudi Arabia. 

AFP/DELIL SOULEIMAN - US armoured vehicle convoy near the north-eastern city of Qahtaniyah
Maher al-Agal, "ambassador" for Daesh 

"In addition to being a veteran leader of the group, Al-Agal was responsible for intensively promoting the development of networks of the self-styled Islamic State outside Iraq and Syria," says the CENTCOM statement issued Tuesday on the considered leader of Daesh in Syria, and one of the five strongest leaders of the terrorist organisation. As reported by the EFE news agency, based on information obtained from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, A-Agal moved to the region controlled by Ankara in 2020, where he resided under a false name and identity issued by the local Council of Afrin, which recognised him as a member of the Turkish-backed Jaysh al Sharkiya faction. 

The Observatory itself also indicated that Al-Agal was a very relevant leader during the control of the city of al-Raqa, considered the 'de facto' capital of ISIS in Syria until the SDF recaptured the territory in 2017. 

Some local sources claim that the mercenary displaced in 2016 from the fighting between Turkey and ISIS, Khalid Subaih, would be the possible false identity of the jihadist Maher al-Agal. An identity he used to be able to recruit and actively lead Daesh fighters in Afrin without arousing suspicion. However, this information remains unconfirmed. 

Daesh's return to Syria

This operation is the latest in a long line of attacks against the terrorist group on Syrian soil. Just a few weeks ago, the US Army announced the capture of an anonymous ISIS militant leader and bomb-maker; and last February, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, the once self-styled caliph of Daesh, blew himself up during an operation by Washington's troops to avoid arrest. 

AFP/ DELIL SOULEIMAN - A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), removes a flag of the Islamic State group in the town of Tabqa, about 55 kilometres (35 miles) west of the city of Raqa. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group are also irreconcilable ideological adversaries and, on the ground, fratricidal enemies

The last year has witnessed the return of jihadism in Syria, starting with the largest Daesh attack since it was considered defeated in 2019: the riot in Gweiran prison in Hassakah, where hundreds of prisoners of the terrorist organisation were held. More than half a thousand people died as a result of the uprising, which dealt a severe blow to security in the northern region of the country. 

In parallel to the US operation, the SDF on Tuesday announced the arrest of 17 suspected ISIS members in the northeastern province of Hassakah. This action was carried out in coordination with the Kurdish International Security Forces (Asayish).

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.