US drone strike kills Daesh Syria chief — Pentagon

A picture shows debris at the site where a US drone targeted Maher al-Agal, a leader in the Daesh militant group, near the village of Khaltan, near Jindires in northern Syria, on July 12, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
WASHINGTON, United States  — A man who US officials called the leader of the Daesh militant group in Syria was killed Tuesday in a drone strike, the Pentagon said.اضافة اعلان

Maher al-Agal was killed while riding a motorcycle near Jindires in northern Syria, and one of his top aides was seriously injured, Pentagon Central Command spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Dave Eastburn told AFP.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed Agal was killed in a drone strike. 

The volunteer Syrian Civil Defense Force, known as the "White Helmets," said one person was killed, and another injured in a strike that targeted a motorcycle outside Aleppo but did not identify the victims.

There was little information about Agal, whom the Observatory called the Daesh governor for the Levant.

The US Central Command called him "one of the top five" leaders of Daesh overall.

"In addition to being a senior leader within the group, Al-Agal was responsible for aggressively pursuing the development of Daesh networks outside of Iraq and Syria," it said in a statement.

According to a spokesman for the US-allied Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, both the targeted men had links to Ahrar al-Sharqiya, an armed group operating in northern Syria.

The group has integrated former leaders and members of Daesh and other extremist groups and has conducted attacks against Kurdish targets inside Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria. 

Ahrar al-Sharqiya was responsible for the 2019 assassination of prominent Kurdish female politician Hevrin Khalaf, which sparked international condemnation.

The US Treasury placed the group on its sanctions blacklist in July 2021.

"Ahrar al-Sharqiya has committed numerous crimes against civilians, particularly Syrian Kurds, including unlawful killings, abductions, torture, and seizures of private property," the Treasury said at the time.

At the site of the drone strike, there were two small craters on the road and debris from the destroyed motorcycle.

Local villagers told AFP that the two Daesh members did not live in the area where they were killed.

Daesh diminished
Damien Ferre, the founder of the consultancy, Analytics, downplayed the strike, saying Daesh in Syria is "barely a shadow" of what it used to be.

"They are still able to carry out attacks against Syrian government forces and undertake operations here and there against the Kurdish forces," he said.

But the group is weak compared to the period of the Daesh "caliphate" that came to control large parts of Iraq and Syria between 2011 and 2019, he said.

"It is important to remember that each time a Daesh head is killed, they are replaced immediately," added Ferre. "It really should not impact their activities."

The last two targeted killings of Daesh leaders took place in Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria, where groups like Ahrar al-Sharqiya are active and have local knowledge of the terrain and families.

The strike came five months after a nighttime US raid in the town of Atme, which led to the death of the overall Daesh leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi.

US officials said Qurashi died when he detonated a bomb to avoid capture.

"The removal of these ISIS leaders will disrupt the terrorist organization's ability to further plot and carry out global attacks," the Central Command said.

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