The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on Monday that it had carried out a drone strike against a senior leader of al-Qaeda located in the northern Syrian province of Idlib.
Navy Lt. Josie Lynne Lenny, a CENTCOM spokeswoman, said that “U.S. forces conducted a kinetic counterterrorism strike near Idlib, Syria, today [sic], on a senior al-Qaeda leader.”
“Initial indications are that we struck the individual we were aiming for, and there are no indications of civilian casualties as a result of the strike.” Lt. Lenny did not identify the target of the airstrike.
The Pentagon confirmed the report later on Monday although Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby declined to answer any questions about the drone strike during a press briefing.
Kirby did tell the assembled media that an Air Force general officer has been tasked to lead an investigation into the drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 people, including seven children on August 29. That strike killed a family whose father, an aid worker, was mistakenly believed to be an ISIS-K facilitator.
However, according to the Search for International Terrorist Entities Institute (SITE) Intelligence Group, monitored social media traffic indicates that the strike killed Abu al-Bara’ al-Tunisi and Abu Hamza al-Yemeni, two fighters with Tanzim Hurras ad-Din (Guardians of Religion Organization), a militia in northern Syria that is aligned with al-Qaeda. As Rita Katz, the co-founder of SITE wrote on Twitter,
Below are photos of the two Hurras al-Deen officials reportedly killed in today's drone strikes in Idlib. Both have longtime ties to AQ, and their deaths are being widely discussed in the AQ-linked community online. Abu Hamza (left). Abu al-Bara (right). https://t.co/ZL7GwCABao pic.twitter.com/YmawUWXuOO
— Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) September 20, 2021
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the drone was a U.S. Reaper and that it attacked a vehicle on the road between Binnish and Idlib city in Idlib countryside. SOHR sources have said that a commander of a jihadi organization was traveling in the car when it was attacked.
As the photos of SITE on Twitter show, the vehicle was effectively cut in half and completely destroyed. The White Helmets, a civil defense group, reported that they have removed at least one unidentified body from the wreckage.
Large swaths of Idlib and the neighboring Aleppo province are the only remaining areas of Syria not under government control after a decade of bloody civil war. The U.S.-led coalition as well as the Israeli Air Force have conducted airstrikes in the region. The U.S. has conducted airstrikes against al-Qaeda and ISIS. A raid during 2019, targeted and killed the leader of the ISIS group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had fled eastern Syria and was located by the coalition.
Various groups are vying for control of the area including the former al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
Four million people have been displaced from Idlib to elsewhere in the country.
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