U.S. Approved Raid to Kill “Senior Islamic State official” in Syria
Saturday morning, the White House announced it approved a raid to kill “senior Islamic State official” Abu Sayyaf in Syria, in what one U.S. official referred to as “the first direct action” by U.S. forces inside Syria.
Previously, the White House has acknowledged U.S. soldiers have carried out hostage rescue missions in Syria but this is the first time they have admitted doing so expressly for military purposes. According to a White House statement the raid was “launched from Iraq” with the full consent of Iraq authorities. The White House said Sayyaf’s wife was captured and the couple had been keeping a Yazidi slave.
Though the White House provided no evidence to support this claim, Human Rights Watch documented the enslavement of the Yazidi, an ethno-religious group, by the Islamic State in October 2014.
Stopping what the White House called the “potential genocide” of the Yazidi on Mount Sinjar, Iraq was the primary justification given by the White House when the U.S. began its bombing campaign against ISIS in Iraq August 8th, 2014. The bombing of ISIS in Syria would begin soon after on September 22nd, 2014.
Since at least 2012, the U.S. has been arming and training “moderate rebel” forces in Syria. Though the CIA had been in control of the operation for years, recent attempts to train rebels have fallen under the purview of the Defense Department after the program was sanctioned by Congress last fall. According to the Pentagon, the focus of the moderate rebels has shifted from fighting Syrian forces loyal to Assad to those of the Islamic State.
The Washington Post reported that the raid on Abu Sayyaf’s compound wasn’t only motivated by his position within ISIS (some other outlets are calling him “ISIS CFO”) but also the possible intelligence in his possession - namely, the location of “remaining U.S. hostages being held by the Islamic State.” It’s also believed, according to the White House, that Sayyaf was in direct contact with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Despite recent reports that al-Baghdadi was no longer the acting head of the Islamic State, the Pentagon assured reporters recently that he was still very much in charge.
The Pentagon alleged, in an interview with the New York Times, Abu Sayyaf tried to use “women and children “ as “human shields” during the raid but the American Delta Force used “precise fire” to avoid civilian casualties. Similar claims were made in the immediate aftermath of the bin Laden raid in 2011 which later turned out to be false.
For his part, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has long held the West “helped create ISIS”, telling CNS News last month:
“[Syrian rebels who] are supported now, who have Western armaments, they became ISIS, they were supported by your state [France], and by other Western states,” he said
Though communication does remain open through back channels, Assad has never recognized the legitimacy of the US presence in Syria and officially considers ISIS-held land sovereign Syrian territory. The Syrian government has yet to comment on the U.S.’s raid to kill Abu Sayyaf.