US kills Islamic State deputy emir, 2 senior commanders in recent airstrikes

The US killed three senior Islamic State leaders, including the group’s deputy emir, during a series of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria over the past month, the top American military commander disclosed yesterday.

Abu Musallam al Turkumani, the Islamic State’s deputy emir and a close aide to self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi; Abd al Basit, the head of military operations in Iraq; and Radwin Talib, a regional commander; were all killed during US airstrikes that have taken place since late November, General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Wall Street Journal.

Both Turkumani and Abd al Basit were killed in airstrikes between Dec. 3 and Dec. 9, while Talib was killed sometime in late November. Dempsey said that US intelligence has since confirmed the deaths of the Islamic State leaders.

The Islamic State has not released martyrdom statements for the slain leaders, nor have their deaths been mentioned on the official social media accounts of the groups.

Turkumani (a.k.a. Haji Mutaaz) is the most senior Islamic State leader killed in Iraq and Syria since Abu Abdulrahman al Bilawi (a.k.a. Adnan Ismail Najm), the group’s military emir, and Samir al Khlifawi (a.k.a. Hajji Bakr), Baghdadi’s deputy, were killed in 2014. The Islamic State confirmed Khlifawi’s death in February and Bilawi’s death in June.

In addition to serving as Baghdadi’s deputy, Turkumani is said to have overseen the Islamic State’s wilayat, or provinces, in both Iraq and Syria. The Islamic State has said it has created 20 of these administrative divisions in Iraq and Syria.

Like many senior Islamic State leaders, Turkumani served in Saddam Hussein’s military before joining the Iraqi insurgency after the US invasion in 2003, followed by joining the Islamic State. According to documents seized by Iraqi forces from the home of Bilawi, Turkumani had served as a lieutenant colonel in Iraqi Army intelligence as well as in Iraq’s special forces. Bilawi himself had served as an infantry officer before joining al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to the Islamic State, and Khlifawi was a former colonel who had been involved in the development of weapons systems.

Talib, whose full name is Radwan Talib Husayn Ismail al Hamduni (a.k.a. Abu Jirnas), served as the “wali,” or governor, “of the Wilayah of the Borders,” according to the documents sized at Bilawi’s home. Dempsey described him as serving as the Islamic State’s emir for Mosul.

Dempsey and other US military officials have said that the US air campaign has been successful in President Barack Obama’s stated goal of “degrading and defeating” the Islamic State, which controls vast areas of Iraq and Syria. The airstrikes have been “disruptive to their planning and command and control,” Dempsey told WSJ.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby issued a statement yesterday confirming that “targeted coalition airstrikes successfully killed multiple senior and mid-level leaders within the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” the previous name of the Islamic State which the US military still insists on using.

“We believe that the loss of these key leaders degrades ISIL’s ability to command and control current operations against Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), including Kurdish and other local forces in Iraq,” Kirby continued.

The US has launched 1,337 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria as of Dec. 17, 2014, according to data compiled by Military Edge and The Long War Journal (782 strikes in Iraq since Aug. 7, and 555 in Syria since Sept. 22). Despite this targeting, the Islamic State has remained on the offensive in Syria and has even gained ground in some areas. In Iraq, the Islamic State has lost territory in some areas and gained in others. US airstrikes have also supported Iranian-supported Shiite militias that are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US soldiers in Iraq between 2006-2011. [See LWJ reports, Islamic State retakes Baiji after Iraqi forces withdraw and Iraqi forces, Iranian-supported militias report success in Baiji.]

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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