Does anyone remember that we’re still fighting a war in Syria and Iraq? CBS reminded us this morning with a headline that almost feels quaint in the post-pandemic, post-Afghanistan era. American forces staged a successful raid in northern Syria and grabbed a “top” and/or “senior” ISIS leader, apparently alive:
U.S. coalition forces say they led a successful and rare raid overnight in Northern Syria, capturing a top ISIS bomb maker and planner.
Defense officials say they will continue to “hunt the remnants” of ISIS “wherever they hide.” pic.twitter.com/qUn8hmoZm4
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) June 16, 2022
US forces captured a senior ISIS leader who is known as a bomb maker during an operation in Syria on Thursday.
Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition against The Islamic State, said no civilians were harmed in the operation and there were no damages incurred to coalition aircraft or assets.
“The mission was meticulously planned to minimize the risk of collateral damage, particularly any potential harm to civilians,” the coalition said in a statement.
The identity of the ISIS leader, described as “one of the group’s top leaders in Syria,” has not been released. Additional details on the operation were not immediately available.
Who was it? The New York Post didn’t get the name, but CBS and the Washington Post sniffed it out:
U.S. officials identified the suspect as Hani Ahmed Al-Kurdi, whom they said also was known as the “Wali of Raqqa.” Wali is another name for governor. Raqqa is a city in northern Syria that, for a time, was the Islamic State’s de facto capital.
The raid took place in northeast Syria, officials said. …
Although the Islamic State’s command nodule in Syria lacks the potency it once possessed, U.S. forces and their partners in the region have continued to target pockets of the group’s fighters and most senior operatives.
A U.S. raid in February killed the group’s leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, at his hideout in Atma, Syria. The building had been rigged with explosives, which officials believe were detonated after U.S. troops entered the structure. U.S. officials acknowledged that at least two children were killed in the blast, though local first responders and UNICEF counted at least five children dead.
If these reports are accurate, it’s interesting — and telling — that al-Kurdi allowed himself to be taken alive. That in itself will be demoralizing to the remnants of ISIS rank-and-file terrorists, who are commanded by people like al-Kurdi to pursue martyrdom. Al-Qurayshi at least followed his own ethos; al-Kurdi apparently enjoyed breathing a little more than he enjoyed his radical Islamist theology.
If he is alive, that’s a great outcome for US intelligence. They will undoubtedly interrogate al-Kurdi thoroughly and may find out some highly valuable intel. But even if al-Kurdi doesn’t talk, ISIS has to assume that everything al-Kurdi knows is now available to the US. They will have to move assets and change communications plans, and that kind of chaos can generate even more intelligence on their operations and command structures.
This also demonstrates that the continued US presence on the ground in Syria and Iraq pays dividends. It takes patience, engagement, and unfettered intel observations to track down these kinds of targets, let alone exfiltrate them successfully without casualties. Those aren’t qualities delivered by satellite cameras and wiretaps alone. We no longer have those kinds of assets on the ground in Afghanistan, which means we can’t exert the same pressure on the Taliban, ISIS-K, or al-Qaeda there any longer. Afghanistan will likely become a nest for radical Islamist terror groups again as a result, especially if our intel and special operations manages to shut down ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Perhaps it was still a smart move to plan for an exit from Afghanistan, but we’re likely going to regret it sooner or later. We already have reason to regret the absolutely incompetent and craven manner in which the US retreat was conducted.