US kills more than 100 al Qaeda operatives in strike on Syrian training camp

Last evening, the US military killed more than 100 al Qaeda fighters in an airstrike on a training camp in Syria. The US has launched five attacks against al Qaeda’s network in Syria since the beginning of 2017.

A B-52 bomber and a number of remotely piloted aircraft, more commonly known as drones, were involved in the strike, US officials told The Associated Press. It is unclear if any senior al Qaeda leaders were killed.

The Pentagon later released a statement confirming the attack, and said it targeted the “Shaykh Sulayman Training Camp”, which “was operational since at least 2013.” It is unclear why the Pentagon allowed this camp to operate for more than 3 years before targeting it.

“The removal of this training camp disrupts training operations and discourages hardline Islamist and Syrian opposition groups from joining or cooperating with al Qaeda on the battlefield,” the Pentagon said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that last evening an “unidentified drone” targeted “Regiment 111,” a base in western Aleppo near the border of Idlib province, near the town of Shaykh Sulayman. Regiment 111 is controlled by Jabhat Fatah al Sham, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria that was formally known as the Al Nusrah Front, and Nur al Din al Zanki, a group allied with JFS. The Observatory later reported that 40 JFS fighters and three Nur al Din al Zanki fighters were killed. The strike described by the military and the one by the Observatory do appear to be one and the same.

Jabhat Fatah al Sham issued a statement denouncing the strike on “one of the training camps that prepare the mujahideen and graduate them to fill the garrison points and fight the criminal regime and its allies,” according tot the SITE Intelligence Group. Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria accused the US of siding with the Syrian government against the people.

The Pentagon has stepped up its targeting of al Qaeda and Jabhat Fatah al Sham. Last evening’s strike is the fifth against al Qaeda’s network in Syria since the beginning of the month. At the beginning of January, more than 20 al Qaeda operatives were killed in a pair of airstrikes in Syria. On Jan. 1, US warplanes hit a convoy of al Qaeda operatives as they left a headquarters near Sarmada. The Pentagon estimated that five fighters were killed.

Two days later, on Jan. 3, the Pentagon estimated that it killed more than 15 al Qaeda personnel when it targeted multiple buildings and vehicles in the Sarmada headquarters. Among those reported killed were Abu Khattab al-Qahtani, another al Qaeda veteran who is said to have fought in Afghanistan and Yemen, and Abu Omar al-Turkistani, a senior member in the al Qaeda-affiliated Turkistan Islamic Party who is reported to have served as a leader in JFS. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Pentagon: Airstrikes kill 20 or more al Qaeda fighters in northern Syria.]

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced that two al Qaeda leaders were killed in bombings in Syria on Jan. 12 and Jan. 17. Among those killed were Mohammad Habib Boussadoun al-Tunisi, who was described as an external operations leader, and Abd al-Jalil al-Muslimi, an al Qaeda veteran of Afghanistan and Syria who was trained by the Taliban and supported attacks against the West. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, US kills al Qaeda facilitator and external ops planner in Syrian airstrikes.]

The US military has targeted al Qaeda’s cadre in Syria since September 2014, and has killed multiple high profile leaders over the past several years. However, the Islamic State has been the focus of the vast majority of the 6,647 Coalition airstrikes in Syria as of Jan. 19, 2017, according to Operation Inherent Resolve. With five strikes against al Qaeda in Syria already over the past 20 days, the US military may be signaling that the global jihadist group will get more attention over the coming months.

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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6 Comments

  • den says:

    Why does it seem strange that this is happening in one big flurry of strikes. Is it a president tying up loose ends. Not that I disagree with the attacks, sure there should have been more, and I hope they continue at a brisk pace for a long time. Coincidental timing… saving them up for one last blast.? Nah, I just think too much.

    • Nusshaus says:

      I think the outgoing administration is trying to establish a narrative that they were proactive in facing Islamic terrorist when the true is that terrorist groups metastasized over the past 8 years.

  • Dwight Newsom says:

    The enemy is observed over a period of time and nothing per say happens. The enemy shows more of who is connected to whom and the lines of command and communication become clearer. The enemy may become more confident in its activities and then the bombs start falling in a short period of time. The game goes on.

    • Arjuna says:

      The insurgent wins by surviving. The Free World loses every single day that this “game” goes on. The enemy has a long range strategy culminating in the use of WMD against the West. What good is understanding what we aren’t willing to eradicate?
      Every person in a terrorist’s house is the enemy, Dan Benjamin. These are not “innocent civilians”, this is war.

  • Jordy says:

    Sneaking suspicion the military is acting proactively on targets the last regime had labeled “Off limits”.

  • Arjuna says:

    Nur al Din al Zanki, Zenki, Zinki, why can’t they just pick something pronounceable like Those Who Sign In Blood? Tom uses a different spelling on Twitter, just fyi.
    They all seem friendly in their pictures, big smiles and funny beards 🙂
    Did they get that good SF training from Seventh Group/SAD in Jordan too??
    That would be rich. Not only TOWs, but spooky insurgent secret tricks given to the enemy.
    These people become the worst terrorists, they know Americans too well now.
    Just ask that wounded guy in the vest, @Whose Your Baghdaddy!
    We look as dumb as the Pakistanis, arming up Frankensteins we then have to kill.

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