United States Special Operations forces carried out a ground raid in Syria this month that killed a militant who was known as “a close associate” of the Islamic State’s leader and who had helped plot a deadly attack on a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Day, the military said on Friday.
American troops killed the insurgent, Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, on April 6 in an operation in Mayadin, Syria. He was targeted for his role in the Islamic State’s external terrorist-attack plotting, said Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for the military’s Central Command.
“He facilitated the movement of ISIS foreign terror fighters and funds,” Colonel Thomas said in a Friday briefing to reporters by telephone from the command’s headquarters in Tampa, Fla., using the acronym for the Islamic State. Colonel Thomas said it took until now to confirm that Mr. Uzbeki was killed in the raid two weeks ago.
In describing Mr. Uzbeki as “a close associate” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the terrorist organization, Colonel Thomas said the militant was “known to interact with him in various ways over time.” Colonel Thomas declined to elaborate.
Soon after the attack in Istanbul, in which 39 people died, the Turkish authorities arrested the suspected gunman. He was identified as Abdulgadir Masharipov, an Uzbek citizen born in 1983, and he later confessed to the shooting. But Turkish officials maintained that Mr. Masharipov received help in carrying out the plot.
The American counterterrorism operation was conducted by the so-called expeditionary targeting force, a group of commandos from the secretive Joint Special Operations Command who target Islamic State leaders and fighters in Iraq and Syria. The operation underscored how the military — both under President Barack Obama and now President Trump — is using risky commando missions and not just airstrikes to battle the militants.
The targeting force has intensified its drone strikes and raids in Syria in recent months against the Islamic State’s external operations planners, who have inspired, supported and directed attacks beyond their declared caliphate and into the West.
In early January, American commandos killed a midlevel Islamic State leader whom they were trying to capture and interrogate in Deir al-Zour Province, which is largely under Islamic State control, in eastern Syria. When the helicopter-borne troops intercepted a vehicle carrying the Islamic Sate leader, a firefight broke out, and the suspect and another person in the car were killed. No Americans were injured.
The Pentagon announced in December that a United States airstrike in Raqqa, in northern Syria, had killed three Islamic State operatives who were involved in mounting terrorist attacks in Europe, including the deadly assaults in Paris in November 2015.
And last August, a strike by an armed Reaper drone killed Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s spokesman. At the time, Pentagon officials called the strike a sign of progress by the military’s Special Operations forces and the Central Intelligence Agency in what was then a two-year conflict, using information from spies on the ground and sensors in the sky to strike at Islamic State leaders.
Until his death, Mr. Adnani led the Islamic State’s external operations branch, and he in turn relied on two lieutenants. Those men have been identified by other members of the group by their noms de guerre, Abu Souleymane and Abu Ahmad, and their real identities remain debated.
Beyond these figures, little is publicly known about the hierarchy of the branch of the Islamic State responsible for projecting terrorism abroad. The Pentagon and intelligence agencies, however, have become increasingly confident that their analysts have been able to map with growing understanding the network of militants who hold those jobs.
Source: The New York Times