US airstrike kills Islamic State external operations facilitator in Raqqah

An Islamic State leader who also worked as a facilitator for its external operations network, which is tasked with hitting targets outside of Iraq and Syria, was killed in an airstrike in Raqqah on New Years Eve, according to the US military. The Pentagon said 16 “significant members” of the organization’s external operations network have been killed in 2016.

Mahmud al-Isawi, “a long-standing ISIL [Islamic State] member who supported the organization’s media and intelligence structure in Fallujah before relocating to Raqqah,” was killed in “a Coalition precision airstrike” on Dec. 31, 2016, according to a press release issued by US Central Command, or CENTCOM.

Al Isawi “controlled the flow of instructions and finances between ISIL-held areas and ISIL leaders, and provided support to propaganda and intelligence outlets,” CENTCOM reported.

In additional to his role as an Islamic State leader, al Isawi “had a close working and personal relationship with Abd al-Basit al-Iraqi,” the head of the group’s Middle East external operations network, which is tasked with striking American, Turkish and European targets throughout the region. The US military killed Abd al-Basit in an airstrike in Raqqah on Nov. 12, 2016. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, US-led coalition killed emir of Islamic State’s ‘Middle East external networks’.]

CENTCOM touted al Isawi’s death and claimed he is the “16th significant member of ISIL’s external operations network to be killed by Coalition forces in 2016. His death, combined with the recent successive deaths of other ISIL leaders plotting terrorist attacks, has degraded ISIL’s trans-regional attack and facilitation network, and is forcing ISIL to increase their focus on internal security.”

The most notable member of the external operations network to have been killed in 2016 was Abu Muhammad al Adnani, who served as the unit’s emir in addition to being the top spokesman for the Islamic State. At the time of his death in Aug. 2016, the US military described Adnani as the “principal architect of ISIL’s external operations” who “coordinated the movement of ISIL fighters, directly encouraged lone-wolf attacks on civilians and members of the military and actively recruited new ISIL members.”

Al Isawi killed during intensified Coalition air campaign in Raqqah

Al Isawi was killed as the US-led coalition has recently ratcheted up its efforts to drive the Islamic State from Raqqah, the capital of the Islamic State’s putative capital in Syria. On Dec. 10, the coalition announced that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched the next phase in its push to oust the Islamic State from the city.

By Dec. 20, the coalition ramped up its air campaign in and around Raqqah in an attempt to weaken the group. Since Dec. 20, the US-led coalition has launched 166 airstrikes in an around Raqqah, the capital of the Islamic State’s so-called capital in Syria. By comparison, the coalition has launched 85 airstrikes in Mosul, which is considered to be the prime battlefield in the fight agains the Islamic State. [See Coalition intensifies air campaign against Islamic State stronghold in Raqqah and Coalition aircraft continue to pound Islamic State positions in Raqqah.]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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2 Comments

  • Arjuna says:

    If the USA has killed 16 “significant members” of the organization’s external operations network in 2016, how in heck can smart, plugged-in people like Scott Stewart of STRATFOR say that external ops against the West are not a priority? He just issued a huge mea culpa on their dead wrong forecast for AQ in 2016 (similar to Obama’s and Kerry’s and Mudd’s position, i.e. “we heroes destroyed Al Qaeda”). Are the eggheads at the Agency equally clueless? My view is they have a large Western-focused (including WMD) effort underway that we are only gleaning slivers of.

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