U.S. troops late Wednesday night conducted a helicopter raid outside the Syrian village of Qamishli, Pentagon officials said, killing a key Islamic State figure and capturing two of his associates.
U.S. Central Command said ISIS official Rakkan Wahid al-Shammri was killed in the raid, which reportedly lasted several hours. U.S. officials said an associate of al-Shammri’s was wounded in the operation, while two other ISIS figures were captured.
No American troops were killed or wounded in the attack, officials said, nor was any American equipment damaged.
The U.S. “is committed to our allies and partners in the enduring defeat of ISIS,” CENTCOM spokesman Col. Joe Buccino said in a brief statement.
A Defense Department spokesman referred questions about the helicopter raid that killed ISIS leader Rakkan Wahid al-Shammri to officials from U.S. Central Command.
“Clearly there was an ISIS terrorist and [Central Command] deemed it necessary … to strike there,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon. “We’re going to go where we need to go if there’s a threat that presents itself.”
Wednesday night’s raid is believed to be the first such American operation in territory controlled by Syrian government troops, Reuters reported Thursday.
Citing sources on the ground, Russia’s Sputnik News reported clashes between U.S. troops and Syrian forces during the operation, but those reports were not confirmed by other independent news outlets.
The U.S. has roughly 900 troops stationed in Syria. Their stated mission is to ensure the defeat of the Islamic State terrorist organization, which formerly controlled a huge swath of land across both Iraq and Syria.
The Pentagon in 2019 declared that ISIS had been “territorially defeated,” but American troops have remained in Syria in the three years since. Former President Donald Trump ordered the full withdrawal of American forces from Syria on at least two occasions, but the withdrawals were never completed.
Wednesday night’s raid is just the latest U.S. operation in Syria targeting ISIS leaders. In July, for example, a U.S. drone strike killed Maher al-Agal, who Pentagon officials said was the leader of ISIS in Syria.
While combating ISIS is the stated goal in Syria, U.S. troops also routinely come under rocket fire and drone attacks by Iran-backed militias operating in both Iraq and Syria.
At the Pentagon, Gen. Ryder said there is growing concern over the presence of large detention camps in Syria where ISIS recruiters may be at work.
“This is something that’s being taken very seriously, not only by the [U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces] but also by the U.S.,” he said. “ISIS is not the threat that they were back in 2014. The point it, we want to keep it that way so it’s something that we have to continue to work very hard on.”
While ISIS has been “largely neutralized,” it isn’t completely a spent force, U.S. officials acknowledged.
“The campaign still continues because the threat still exists, although to a much smaller degree,” Gen. Ryder said. “Our focus is to continue to work with our partners in the region … to eliminate the threat and hopefully prevent it from spreading further.”