- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2016

A U.S. airstrike has killed the so-called “emir” heading Islamic State operations in Iraq’s volatile Anbar province as well as a number of the group’s top commanders, the Pentagon confirmed on Monday.

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, according to Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook.

Mr. Cook declined to say whether it was a drone or U.S. warplane that carried out the strike, but he did note Defense Department officials were confident Abu Waheeb was among the dead after the strike.

“We’re confident that this was a successful strike and I’ll leave it at that,” Mr. Cook said.

Monday’s 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.

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.

Waheeb had spearheaded operations in Anbar province for the Islamic State since 2013, after breaking out of Tikrit Central Prison a year earlier, leading attacks on Iraqi forces and assassinating top regional commanders with the Iraqi Security Forces in Ramadi and elsewhere across Anbar.

While Waheeb’s death is significant in the U.S.-led operation to push the Islamic State from Iraq and Syria, Mr. Cook said the operation was just one of several ongoing U.S. efforts in the area as Iraqi forces prepare a major offensive to retake Mosul and other major Iraqi strongholds of the jihadi movement.

“I think it’s fair to say that ISIL leadership has been hit hard by coalition efforts, and this is another example of that,” Mr. Cook said. “It is dangerous to be an ISIL leader in Iraq and Syria these days, and for good reason.”

Last Thursday, Pentagon officials confirmed senior Islamic State operative Abu Sa’ad al-Sudani, a Sudanese national also known as Abu Isa Al Amriki, and his wife were killed during an April 22 U.S. airstrike outside the northern Syrian district of al Bab roughly 30 miles northeast of Aleppo.

Al-Sudani, and his wife, Australian-born Shadi Jabar Khalil Mohammad, were accused of plotting attacks in the U.S., Canada and United Kingdom.

President Obama in April ordered 200 U.S. troops backed by additional heavy weapons and equipment to Iraq to support the upcoming Mosul offensive.

Iraqi forces backed by American firepower successfully cut off the terror group’s main supply route to the north of Mosul in late March and now were moving into position to begin isolating Islamic State fighters in the city.

Islamic State fighters have unleashed a wave of car bombs, suicide bombers and gunmen on Kurdish front lines to the north of Mosul, successfully overrunning Kurd fighting positions until a barrage of American airstrikes halted the Islamic State advance, Reuters reported at the time.

Iraqi, Kurdish and U.S. forces are expected to be in position before the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts on June 6, to being the assault on Mosul according to the Pentagon. The operation will be a massive undertaking, requiring between seven to 10 Iraqi Army brigades or 25,000 troops, according to U.S. military officials.

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