US Special Operations Forces killed an Islamic State military and financial leader and captured his wife during a raid in eastern Syria last night, the US military confirmed today.
The operation, which included airstrikes followed by an air assault conducted by special operations troops, was designed to capture Abu Sayyaf, a senior leader in the Islamic State, and his wife, Umm Sayyaf.
The raid took place “in al-Amr,” or the Al Omar oil field in Deir al Zour province in eastern Syria, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement released by the US military. The oil field is under the control of the Islamic State, which uses the extracted resources to fund its operations in Iraq and Syria.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 19 Islamic State fighters were killed “due to carrying out airstrikes by warplanes on IS [Islamic State] positions in the oilfield.” A “paratrooper landing followed the strikes.”
“Abu Sayyaf was killed during the course of the operation when he engaged US forces,” according to Carter’s statement. A US official told told The Long War Journal that communications equipment, a computer, and other documents were seized during the raid.
No US troops were killed or wounded, Carter noted.
Abu Sayyaf was “involved in ISIL’s military operations and helped direct the terrorist organization’s illicit oil, gas, and financial operations as well,” Carter said, referring to the Islamic State by its outdated acronym. Abu Sayyaf was also known as Abu Muhammad al Iraqi, a US military official told The Long War Journal.
Umm Sayyaf was also a suspected member of the Islamic State and “may have been complicit in what appears to have been the enslavement of a young Yazidi woman rescued last night.” The Islamic State places great importance on recruiting women and then marrying them off to jihadists. Additionally, the group often enslaves women captured during the fighting in Iraq and Syria. [See LWJ reports, The oppression of women and girls in the Islamic State’s ‘caliphate’, Islamic State al-Khans’aa Brigade publishes manifesto for women, and Islamic State’s female jihadists use social media to lure women recruits.]
Second special operations raid in Syria in the past year
Last night’s raid is just the second US special operations mission using ground forces that has been reported in Syria in the past year. President Barack Obama has vowed not to deploy combat forces on the ground to help defeat the Islamic State in Iraq or Syria.
In August 2014, two squads of Army Delta Force troops along with accompanying air support attempted to rescue American journalist James Foley, who was being held inside Syria by the Islamic State. Foley was not at the target site, and he was later beheaded by his captors.
The US has launched at least one other special operations raid in Syria since 2008. In October 2008, special operations forces killed Abu Ghadiya, a senior al Qaeda leader who had been in charge of the group’s Syrian network since 2005, and several aides during an operation in Albu Kamal. The Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, has subsequently named a training camp after Abu Ghadiya.