United States Special Operations forces killed a top commander of the Islamic State in Syria on Friday. In addition to participating in terrorist operations, the commander, Abu Sayyaf, managed the jihadist organization’s oil and gas commerce. He is also suspected of complicity in ISIS’s enslavement of a young Yazidi woman who was apparently rescued by the U.S. forces.
The New York Times has just reported that defense secretary Ashton Carter announced the raid in a statement early Saturday. According to the Defense Department, American commandos entered Syria from Iraq with a mission to capture Abu Sayyaf and his wife, Umm Sayyaf. Abu Sayyaf was killed and his wife was captured. No Americans were killed or injured in the operation.
Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the Obama administration’s National Security Council, explained that the U.S. coordinated the operation with the Iraqi government but neither coordinated with nor advised the Assad regime in Syria in advance of the operation.
The Times report is here. CBS News, which is also reporting on the raid (here), explains that President Obama approved it. It involved hand-to-hand combat, the jihadists tried to use women and children as human shields, and about a dozen jihadists were killed. None of the women and children were injured.
The operation has been weeks in the making. Abu Sayyaf has been changing location while under surveillance. The U.S. forces infiltrated into Iraq over the past two weeks or so, continued training, and from there entered eastern Syria, where the operation took place. Our forces are said to have seized laptops and cellphones, which are being analyzed for intelligence purposes.
This is obviously a crucial development, and the president is to be applauded for authorizing it. Clearly, it underscores what many informed analysts have been saying for a long time: There is a severe limit to what can be accomplished solely by aerial attacks to beat back the Islamic State and a resurgent al Qaeda. To be decisively effective, the air raids must be augmented by boots on the ground … and there is no equal of American ground forces.