US military denies it targeted Islamic State’s deputy emir in airstrike on mosque

Airstrikes in Syria

US Central Command, which is coordinating the air campaign to “degrade and defeat” the Islamic State inside Iraq and Syria, denied that it launched an airstrike on a mosque near the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar that is rumored to have killed the jihadist group’s deputy emir.

Iraq’s Ministry of Defense released a statement today claiming that Abu Alaa al Afari, the purported deputy emir of the Islamic State, Akram al Qurbash, who is also known as Mullah Meisar, and “a large number” of fighters were killed in “an air strike by international coalition forces” at the Martyrs mosque in a village near Tal Afar. Qurbash is said to command the Islamic State’s military forces in Ninewa province.

Afari, a Turkman whose real name is Abdul Rahman Mustafa Mohammad, is known to coordinate with the Islamic State’s “provinces” outside of Iraq and Syria. He is said to have taken over day to day operations for Baghdadi, who has been rumored to have been seriously wounded Or killed several times in airstrikes over the past year. These reports have not been confirmed and US military officials have stated they believe he remains in firm control of the Islamic State.

The Iraqi government has a poor track record in claiming the deaths of senior leaders of the Islamic State and its predecessor, al Qaeda in Iraq.

The Islamic State has not released an official statement announcing the death of Baghdadi, nor have well known jihaidsts linked to the group announced his death on social media accounts.

US Central Command, which runs Operation Inherent Resolve, the coalition of countries that is launching airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, denied that it conducted the strike against a mosque and said it has “no information” about the death of Afari.

“We are aware of media reports that the second-in-command of ISIL has been killed in a Coalition air strike in Tal Afar and have no information to corroborate these claims,” CENTCOM stated in a press release. “However, we can confirm that Coalition aircraft did not strike a mosque as some of the press reporting has alleged.”

“We have significant mitigation measures in place within the targeting process and during the conduct of operations to reduce the potential risks of collateral damage and civilian casualties,” CENTCOM concluded.

The US military is sensitive about striking religious sites, and terrorists frequently use mosques as meeting places and weapons storage sites.

CENTCOM conducted one airstrike in the Tal Afar area between 8:00 AM May 12 and 8:00 AM May 13. According to a press release, it “destroyed an ISIL fighting position and an ISIL heavy machine gun.” ISIL is an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraqi and the Levant (or Syria), the previous name of the Islamic State. The US military persists in calling the jihadist group by the acronym despite the fact that the group changed its name to the Islamic State nearly one year ago when Baghdadi declared the establishment of his “caliphate.”

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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  • codejnke says:

    there’s no doubt in my mind that CENTCOM is interested in keeping as low a profile as is possible. Allowing events play-out is in the U.S. best interest when keeping as small a footprint as possible. Particularly when regarding the recruitment and propaganda arena. When considering attrition it is imperative to bring in fewer fresh bodies and eliminate as many threats as is possible. Some especially hardliners would feel a larger presence and lots of news to be amicable. I absolutely disagree with that belief. Keeping the Iraqi government forces as the central player gives them at least the appearance of some credibility in defending itself (regardless of whether this be the case or not)The U.S. does not need to make big noise when it can be swift silent and deadly. Oooh Rah.

  • Verneoz says:

    A Mosque loses its protected status when it is used as a sanctuary by the enemy. By immediately denying the strike on the Mosque, this shows the US has no legitimate information campaign. The fact that it was being used to shelter ISIS should have been part of the news release. The CIA used to salt newspapers and magazines with disinformation, and stories to demoralize the enemy. Our Commander Solo aircraft remain parked in Florida and almost never used. This is why the war on terror is going to last many decades.

  • AZ says:

    Why are we concerned with bombing a Mosque? How many churches did we and the Axis destroy in WWII. How many Mosques have the Sunni destroyed not just in Iraq but in Pakistan? A lot. Nothing to be proud of but then war is not kind or nice. Trying to be nice only prolongs wars.

  • Moe says:

    It’s about not being the bad guy” evil invaders from America crusading against Muslims” instead gain local support by killing the” terrorists” and helping the Muslims defend their own country. That’s why you don’t want to bomb the mosques, and it’s also a place of civilians like hospitals, maybe they are housing the Islamic state, but I can’t see that they have much of a choice.
    Trying to be nice only prolongs wars.
    Yes but what are you going to do? Nuke them all? If you don’t care what happens to the people, why do you care about stopping the Islamic State at all?

  • Ben Dere says:

    Personally, I’d like to view the footage? I’d say the Secondary Explosions from dropping even one single, small, Iron Bomb on an ISIS Mosque in Iraq, must have been tremendous… Let’s have the folks at Christians in Action, put out a story blaming the entire incident on the premature detonation by an IS-IED team…

  • Civdiv says:

    The only defense Daesh (or AQ or TTP, etc) has against the drone strikes is the media. So while I also have issues with not being able to strike a mosque or a house with family nearby or a cemetery, I sort of understand why these restrictions exist. If some AQ leader wants to make his living room the C2 node for his group, then it should be treated as a military HQ, regardless if his wife, sister, mother, father, and seven kids live in the same house. But I certainly understand why this would quickly go south in the media.


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