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US forces capture six Islamic State operatives in Syria raids

Centcom says it captured the senior IS operatives during helicopter raids in eastern Syria
US forces patrol for children of suspected Islamic State group in the town of Tel Maaruf in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province on 15 December 2022.
US forces patrol for children of suspected Islamic State members in town of Tal Maaruf in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province, on 15 December 2022 (AFP)

The US military said on Tuesday that it captured six Islamic State (IS) operatives in eastern Syria during helicopter raids, including a senior operative who the military said was involved in plotting and enabling attacks.

The US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US troops in the Middle East, said in a statement that it conducted three pre-dawn raids over the past 48 hours, and its main target was a senior IS Syria provincial operative referred to as al-Zubaydi. The military said that no Americans were injured in the raids.

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The raids are the second to take place in the span of a week. Last Sunday, US commandos killed another IS operative, known as Anas, and an associate in a nearly three-hour gun battle in eastern Syria, the military said.

"These partnered operations reaffirm Centcom's steadfast commitment to the region and the enduring defeat of ISIS,” General Michael Kurilla, the head of the command, said in a statement, using another acronym to refer to the IS militant group.

"The capture of these ISIS operatives will disrupt the terrorist organization's ability to further plot and carry out destabilizing attacks."

The raids by the US come a month after Centcom confirmed that the leader of the IS group, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, was killed in battle by anti-Syrian government fighters. He had only been in charge of the militant group for less than nine months.

After his rise to leader in February, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashemi al-Quraishi remained a mysterious figure, and little was known about him. His name is thought not to be real, and some believe the leader to be Juma Awad al-Badri. 

In July, the US assassinated Maher al-Agal, a senior IS group leader, in a drone strike in Syria, and in February it killed the group's previous leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.

Syrian Democratic Forces

Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accompanied the US troops in their latest operation, the American military said, according to The New York Times.

The presence of the SDF comes after the Kurdish-led group had announced earlier this month that it stopped all joint counter-terrorism operations with the US against the IS group as a result of Turkish attacks on its territory, only for the US to later announce a resumption of joint patrols.

However, The Times reported that US officials rushed to tamp down tensions, and operations soon resumed.

The US has backed the SDF with military assistance and conducts joint operations with the group, which it sees as the most effective fighting force against IS.

Turkey views the SDF (and also YPG) as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has waged a decades-long war for independence against Turkey. The US considers the group, known as the PKK, a terrorist organisation, but differentiates it from the SDF. 

Turkey began an intensive bombing campaign in northern Syria in response to a deadly terror attack in Istanbul in November. Both Syrian government forces and YPG fighters have been killed in the Turkish response. The YPG and PKK deny any involvement in the Istanbul bombing. 

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