Maher al Aqal: US kills ISIS leader in Syria in drone strike | International
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The Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday the death of the leader of the Islamic State in Syria as a result of a drone attack near Afrin, in the northwest of the country. One of his lieutenants has been seriously injured. Both were hit while traveling on a motorcycle. Maher al Aqal, one of the five supreme leaders of the jihadist group, was considered responsible for developing the Islamic State (ISIS) network outside of Syria and Iraq, where the terrorist hydra became strong in 2014.
“This operation was planned in detail to ensure the success of its execution. The first assessment of what happened indicates that there have been no civilian casualties” due to the attack by the US drone, the General Staff confirmed in a statement. Drone attacks by the US have left a long trail of collateral damage in the region, that is, civilian casualties.
The death of Al Aqal represents another severe blow to the jihadist group’s attempts to reorganize as a guerrilla, after having lost a considerable extension of what was once, and until 2017, the self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate. Last February, the top leader of ISIS blew himself up during an attack by the US Army in Syria.
The Islamic State, or ISIS, also called Daesh in its Arabic acronym, proclaimed its so-called caliphate in vast areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014, with the Syrian city of Raqa as its capital. de facto, from where they directed a regime of terror. Although they were largely defeated in 2019, and most former combatants have rejoined civilian life, many are ready to strike when the opportunity presents itself. Sleeper cells of the group carry out sporadic coups in the region and also in Asian countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, with minority Shiites or foreign interests in the spotlight. The deadliest attack was the Kabul airport bombing in late August, during evacuation operations from Afghanistan, which killed 13 US soldiers.
The United States has just under a thousand soldiers deployed in Syria, although not on a combat mission, most of them in the east of the country. The Joe Biden Administration has yet to detail its long-term plans for the eight-year mission. “ISIS continues to pose a threat to the United States and its partners in the region,” a Central Command spokesman recalled in the statement announcing the attack. The US-led international coalition against ISIS estimated in mid-2019, after the group’s defeat on the ground, that there were 14,000 to 18,000 fighters left, including 3,000 foreigners, although the exact figure is difficult to confirm.
The news about the fall of Al Aqal is surprising due to the temporary coincidence with the trip to the region of President Joe Biden, who will arrive in Israel this Wednesday and land in Saudi Arabia on Friday. The announcement also occurs on the same day that the Security Council has approved an extension of aid to Syria through the Turkish corridor until next January, with a potential beneficiary population of four million people in the northwest of the country. Arab (the same area where the ISIS leader has been the target of the attack). The UN mandate had expired last Sunday and it took three attempts to renew it.
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The US, UK and France abstained from voting because they wanted to extend the humanitarian aid operation for a year. Russia vetoed that proposal on Friday and then failed on its own, which called for a six-month renewal. This Tuesday it has finally been approved.
Biden’s trip to the region, programmed with a strong economic component – guaranteeing energy support from Saudi Arabia – now faces new challenges, such as the recently announced visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Iran next week, where he will meet with his Iranian counterparts, Ebrahim Raisi, and Turkish, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the announcement, this Monday, that Tehran is preparing to supply drones to Moscow for the war in Ukraine. It will be Putin’s second trip abroad since the start of the war, at the end of February. The Tehran trilateral will be held next Tuesday.
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