The US killed three senior Islamic State commanders in separate airstrikes in the Iraqi-Syrian theater in late November, with a US military spokesman touting the strikes as “an example of how we’re able to decimate networks.”
Colonel Steve Warren, the spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the US mission in Iraq and Syria, announced the deaths of the three Islamic State leaders during a Pentagon briefing yesterday. Among those killed was the Islamic State’s finance minister. The exact dates of death of the three Islamic State leaders was not disclosed; Warren only said all three were killed “in late November.”
The most prominent Islamic State leader who was killed was Abu Saleh, the Islamic State’s “financial minister” who was “one of the most senior and experienced members of ISIL’s [acronym for Islamic State] financial network,” Warren said. In addition, Abu Saleh was “a legacy Al Qaeda member.” The Islamic State was part of al Qaeda’s network until early 2014, when Ayman al Zawahiri ejected the jihadist group due to a leadership and territorial dispute with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.
Warren said that Abu Saleh was the third senior financial official killed by the US. “Killing him and his predecessors exhausts the knowledge and talent needed to coordinate funding within the organization,” Warren claimed. But independent press reports indicate that the Islamic State has not experienced a drop-off in revenue despite the targeting of its leaders and the oil fields they control.
Also killed were Abu Maryam, an Islamic State “enforcer and senior leader of their extortion network,” and Abu Rahman al Tunisi, who Warren said “functioned as a sort of ISIL executive officer, coordinating the transfer of information, people and weapons.” Warren claimed that Maryam’s death and the death of two other “senior” extortionists “is impairing ISIL’s ability to extort money from a civilian population.”
Warren concluded that the strikes that killed the three Islamic State leaders “are an example of how we’re able to decimate networks.”
There is little evidence that the Islamic State’s leadership has been decimated by the US air campaign and limited special operations raids, which began in Iraq in August 2014 and in Syria one month later. The coalition has launched a total of 8,783 strikes (5,765 in Iraq and 3,018 in Syria) as of Dec. 9, 2015, according to the US Department of Defense. Yet, according to the Pentagon’s own reporting only 13 senior and mid-level Islamic State leaders have been confirmed killed over the last 15 months (see list below).
The US has also targeted Islamic State leaders in Afghanistan and Libya in a limited number of strikes over the past year, killing four senior leaders.
The US government and its allies have abandoned a counterterrorism strategy to combat the spread of islamic State and al Qaeda insurgencies and the growth of their armies. Rather than fighting the jihadist groups on the ground as a viable insurgent force or state, the US has primarily relied on airstrikes, and in many cases, unmanned drones, to target senior and mid-level leaders of the jihadist groups. This tactic has been used against al Qaeda, the Taliban and allied groups in Pakistan since 2007, al Qaeda in Yemen since 2009, and Shabaab (al Qaeda’s branch in Somalia) and predecessors since 2006.
While US airstrikes have killed some top leaders in the Islamic State, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other organizations, this tactic has not stopped the spread of jihadist groups across Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. Nor have airstrikes denied these groups territory, which is crucial for the group to train fighters, maintain local insurgencies, and plot attacks against the West. Despite years of airstrikes against al Qaeda and its allies, and more recently the Islamic State, the groups still control territory in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, and they are waging active insurgencies in Nigeria, Mali, Egypt, the Caucasus, and elsewhere. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State control territory and have a deep bench of leaders and operatives who are willing to step in for those killed in the air campaigns.
List of senior Islamic State leaders killed in US and allied airstrikes and special operations raids in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Libya. This list only includes those confirmed killed by the US Department of Defense:
Late November 2014
Radwin Talib, a regional Islamic State commander.
Early December 2015
Abd al Basit, the head of the Islamic State’s military operations in Iraq.
May 15, 2015
Abu Sayyaf, a senior leader in the Islamic State who was “involved in ISIL’s military operations and helped direct the terrorist organization’s illicit oil, gas, and financial operations.” His wife, Umm Sayyaf, was captured.
June 15, 2015
Ali Awni al Harzi, a suspect in the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya and a legacy al Qaeda leader.
Aug. 18, 2015
Fadhil Ahmad al Hayali (a.k.a. Hajji Mutazz and Abu Musallam al Turkumani), the “senior deputy to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,” and “an ISIL media operative known as Abu Abdullah.” The US military erroneously reported that Hayali was killed in December 2014.
Aug. 21 & Aug. 21, 2015
Reyaad Khan (Aug. 21)and Junaid Hussain (Aug. 24), two British nationals involved in plotting attacks in the West.
Sept. 10, 2015
Abu Bakr al Turkmani, a senior Islamic State leader who served as an “administrative emir.”
Nov. 12, 2015
Mohamed Emwazi, the infamous British executioner who is better known as “Jihadi John.” Emwazi was the masked man behind the videotaped murders of US, British, and Japanese reporters and aide workers.
Late November 2015
Abu Saleh, the Islamic State’s financial minister.
Late November 2015
Abu Maryam, an Islamic State “enforcer and senior leader of their extortion network.”
Late November 2015
Abu Rahman al Tunisi, an Islamic State “executive officer, coordinating the transfer of information, people and weapons.”
Nov. 13, 2015
Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, an Iraqi who US military claimed was the Islamic State’s emir of Libya.
Khorasan Province – Afghanistan and Pakistan
Feb. 9, 2015
Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, the deputy governor of Khorasan Province. He was held by the US military at Guantanamo Bay up until he was transferred to Afghan custody in December 2007 and subsequently released.
July 10, 2015
Shahidullah Shahid, the spokesman for Khorasan Province.
Oct. 13, 2015
Jalaluddin, the mufti for the Khorasan Province. He was a disciple of a senior Taliban leader and al Qaeda facilitator who is a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and attended a madrassa in Pakistan that is listed by the US as a terrorist facility.