An American airstrike in southeast Iraq ended with the deaths of two senior Islamic State commanders, one of which was responsible for launching chemical weapons against Iraqi and allied forces.
U.S. military aircraft took out Abu Hamza, a “brigade-level commander” for Islamic State fighters based around Nasiriyah, during a May 13 airstrike, Col. Steve Warren, the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said Wednesday.
As a former member of al Qaeda’s Iraqi cell, Hamza had been responsible for coordinating the group’s operations against U.S. forces around Nasiriyah during the American occupation of Iraq.
As the Islamic State’s top commander in the region, Hamza was charged with coordinating fighters, reinforcements and finances in the southeastern Iraqi city and surrounding Euphrates River Valley, Col. Warren told reporters during a briefing from Baghdad.
“He was sort of a cheerleader for the local [Islamic State] forces here. And he’s a cheerleader who will cheer no more — because he’s dead,” he added.
Col. Warren could not comment as to whether the strike was carried out by American warplanes or armed drones.
Also killed in the airstrike was Abu Sufyan, a chemical weapons specialist for the terror group, who had planned and executed chemical attacks on Iraqi and allied forces fighting along the Euphrates.
While the airstrike coincided with the ongoing U.S.-backed Iraqi operation, dubbed Desert Lynx, to flush Islamic State fighters from their positions in the volatile Anbar province, the attack was not part of the operation.
“That was a deliberate strike,” Col. Warren said. “We collected intelligence [and] the opportunity presented itself as far as positioning and timing, and we struck using air power.”
Earlier this month, U.S. airstrike has killed the so-called “emir” heading Islamic State operations in Anbar province, as well as a number of the group’s top commanders.
Shaker Wahib al-Fahdawi al-Dulaimi, also known as Abu Waheeb, was traveling in the Iraqi city of Rutba when his convoy was struck by American aircraft, Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook said during a May 9 press briefing at the Pentagon.
U.S. and European counterterrorism experts say Waheeb, reportedly a close confidant of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL, had been tapped as a possible replacement to al-Baghdadi. Waheeb and al-Baghdadi were both imprisoned in Iraq’s infamous Camp Bucca in 2009, according to news reports.
The May airstrike was the fourth time in three years Waheeb had been reportedly killed by U.S. or allied forces. However, Monday was the first time Pentagon officials confirmed his death.
“We’re confident that this was a successful strike and I’ll leave it at that,” Mr. Cook said at the time.