US airstrikes target Islamic State leaders in Libya and Syria

Over the past 48 hours, the US military has targeted Islamic State leaders with airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. The first strike, which took place in Raqqa, Syria, on Nov. 12, targeted Mohamed Emwazi, the infamous British executioner who is better known as “Jihadi John.” Emwazi was the masked man behind the videotaped murders of US, British, and Japanese reporters and aide workers. From a Department of Defense press release announcing the strike:

US forces yesterday conducted an airstrike in Raqqa, Syria, targeting Mohamed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John,” according to a statement issued by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook.

“Emwazi, a British citizen, participated in the videos showing the murders of US journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, and a number of other hostages,” Cook said in the statement.

“We are assessing the results of tonight’s operation and will provide additional information as and where appropriate,” Cook added.

US officials are fairly certain Emwazi is dead. The Islamic State has not released an official statement announcing his death.

Yesterday, the US targeted an Iraqi jihadist known as Abu Nabil. The military said this was “the first US strike against an ISIL [Islamic State] leader in Libya” and the “operation was authorized and initiated prior to the terrorist attack in Paris,” which was carried out by the Islamic State. From the press release:

On November 13, the US military conducted an airstrike in Libya against Abu Nabil, aka Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, an Iraqi national who was a longtime al Qaeda operative and the senior ISIL leader in Libya.

Reporting suggests he may also have been the spokesman in the February 2015 Coptic Christian execution video. Nabil’s death will degrade ISIL’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Libya, including recruiting new ISIL members, establishing bases in Libya, and planning external attacks on the United States.

The press release noted that the strike against Abu Babil “demonstrates [that] we will go after ISIL leaders wherever they operate.”

The strikes that targeted Emwazi and Abu Nabil should serve as a reminder that 14 years after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, the military and intelligence establishment remain hyper focused on targeting individuals in the hopes of causing the collapse of jihadist groups. Unfortunately as the US drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen have shown, jihadist groups (in those cases, al Qaeda, and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, respectively) have proven to be resilient in the face of the targeting and killing of its leaders and key operatives. Al Qaeda and its splinter group the Islamic State control territory and have a deep bench of leaders and operatives who are willing to step in for those killed in the air campaigns. Last night’s suicide assault in Paris, France should serve as a reminder that these groups cannot be dismantled by air power alone.

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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  • Dennis says:

    You are appropriate in thinking so Bill. The sad part has always been. .what does it take for the west to become. should we say. ..committed? Has this reached its apex.? Not yet..unfortunately.

  • C-Low says:


    Not with this leadership. Maybe after 2016 if we pick someone who is willing to say to hell with PC, and actually use some common sense solutions that have worked in the history books. They are not pretty or fuzzy but they do work.

  • James says:

    I say, beginning with Raqqa, carpet bomb them with fire bombs. We can use the rationalization that we are doing so to clear the IED’s. What better conventional weapon might there be to clear IED’s than napalm or some other suitable incendiary device?

    Sure, it may be a ‘brute force’ solution, but what other solution is there (at least in the short term)? It gets quick results, and doesn’t needlessly endanger friendly forces. As I understand it, the major reason why the Kurds and Iraqis have been so slow in retaking territory from ISIS is because of the IED’s.

    It appears to me that Europe [possibly with France, in particular] has an internal, or migrant problem. My advice to Europe is to just send them back. Make them fight for their own country. Europe needs to just ‘burn the bridges’ (so to speak).

  • Erik says:

    Almost any western power( or Arab for that matter), can roll into one of these spots and steamroll them. That is without question.
    The issue lies in the what after. When the US went into Iraq, we disrupted the balance of power in the region. As bad as Saddam may have been, his rule kept these factions in check. Iran and Russia have taken note of this power vacuum and are trying to capitalize on it.
    Any nations actions in the region are going to have be on the long, long term. They not only have to take care of the current threat, but also stay long enough to truly stabilize the region; something that we, the US, failed to do before we left Iraq. This is not something as simple as a couple years, but could quite possibly take a solid generation or two.

  • james says:

    Once it was “cutting the head of the snake….”. Ok for people like Hitler. Only one head. Isis is a hydra. Many heads.

  • kMikeB says:

    I would assume that one of the two competing governments in Libya would consider this attack an act of war considering the US as in Syria have not been invited to mount such an operation nor has Obama made the proper Congressional notifications or had UN sanction to mount such an attack on a sovereign nation.

  • Kenny Hermsen says:

    I was and still am spiritually an Infantry Marine. However, I owe it to a brother warrior who lured me into working with Marine Combat Intelligence operations, and ever since he did, I’ve loved learning and studying and analyzing combat intelligence, especially such regarding Counter Terrorism. And I want to learn as much as I can about the most up to date information about the war on ISIL.

  • Jason says:

    Unfortunately, America lacks the political will, regardless of the administration, to actually “do” anything. We have the military capacity to have eliminated ISIS some time ago if the force was was just allowed to go in and just do the job it does best. The politicians won’t allow it because they might lose a vote or hurt someone’s feelings

  • David Roberts says:

    I don’t see the difference between Japan in 1945 and Syria/Iraq in 2015. Sooner or later, ISIS will strike the West to such a degree that we will be forced to consider sending in ground forces. Why should we sacrifice our troops to wipe these Islamic Terrorists out? Even if we did send in troops, why would it work out any better in the long run than Iraq and Afghanistan? The same Islamic religion will still exist and will ultimately recreate identical jihadists – that’s the only surefire way for them to get to their god.

    We finally realized in 1945 that it would be immoral to sacrifice 1/2 million or more troops on a fanatical population who would rather die than surrender. Does this sound familiar to anyone yet?

  • Jack Ryan says:

    We need to continue to pressure them wherever they are. Give them zero time to stop and plot and recruit. They need to be under constant pressure.

  • Jack Ryan says:

    You nailed it. We certainly have the means to fight this head on but not the commitment from the executive office. Being reactive all the time and dropping some bombs here and there isn’t a solution. Its putting a bandaid on a shot gun wound.

  • Red says:

    Yes, if we kill a few individuals the whole jihadi movement will fall apart. NOT!

    Maybe it is more like certain politicians want us to believe this, so they can be re-elected.

    We have a deep bench but the enemy does not. How naive is that?

    _FFERS! That they want us to beleive that crap!

  • popseal says:

    The pool of recruits is so deep and wide, picking off a few “leaders” makes for headlines and political ‘capital’, but that’s about all. Wake me up when the West declares war on Islam and continually carpet bombs population centers, until the need passes. Anything less is a top hat and cane tap dance choreographed for popular consumption, not strategic victory.

  • Sam says:

    Great article. Our nation, and especially our military, would benefit from a more robust discussion about strategy. Certainly there are some groups who would disintegrate if key leadership was killed. Certain cults come to mind. But if the enemy were using this strategy against us, it would be completely ineffective. We can survive the loss of squadron or group commanders periodically. What would be no more than a temporary interruption of operations for us, we assume is a knock out blow to them. 10 years of aggressively pursuing this strategy without any decisive victories should inspire debate.

    I think killing HVIs is popular because it is politically palatable and can be done with air power alone. But we pass on opportunities to hit valuable military targets, in the open, because the HVI hunt remade all assets. if we are t going to initiate another ground war, we should have more prudence in prioritizing air power assets. Rather than focus so much attention on HVIs, we should be interdicting their convoys and movement. The enemy is bigger than single personalities, just like we are.

  • gar says:

    What do you suggest for rebel/terrorist tactics? Battalions of tanks and Infantry? Paratroopers, Airborne infantry helicopter strikes? Battalions of Commandos? Carpet bombing? Agent Orange for the desert? Platoons of infantry or Marines patrolling the bush?
    What do you suggest for the obvious? Lawrence of Arabia? Camel calvary and swords?
    I can’t imagine what you imagine what history has already taught us? What we have, so far, not already tried somewhere in Afghanistan, Iraq.
    Except, conquer and hold ground. The Colonist countries, Britain, France, Italy, Israel, etc., have already tried that. It worked for a while. Until they pulled out. As did the Russians and we. The only thing that works and we broke, are dictators. Hussein, Qaddafi, Assad, etc. If we had left well enough alone, we would not have this mess.
    That part of history we chose to ignore, over and over again. Why? Butt in and mind everyone’s business. Lose tens of thousands of our young men and women in a losing cause, Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.. When will we actually learn something from history????

  • James says:

    Europe has a problem. A migrant problem. They need to make those people go right back to where they came from.

    Why do they run? Why don’t they fight for their country and religion instead of putting their tail between their legs like cowards and running off to Europe or wherever else they can find most convenient?

    Europe needs to ‘burn the bridges’ and make them people fight for what they believe in.

  • Hart says:

    we should consider dropping a big atomic bomb on isis capital before they cause major damage in west

  • Hart says:

    I agree , but west must send all terrorist back to middleeast

  • PAULG says:

    So, what your saying do nothing and it all will go away.
    Good thing we didn’t use that strategy in WWII, Europe would be speaking german.

  • Dennis says:

    We are obviously at the point where if we do not act progressively. ..we lose. Why is it so hard for our president to pronounce the words’ “Islamic terrorist” ,? Is this the new approach to a “p c” war? Is it too painful for him to put that into his” ‘”legacy” ? He should be ashamed of what history will say about him..An American victory is as far away as an Armored Division with Calvary support and good close ground support by A-10s and mlrvs , self-propelled 8 inch howitzers., WHY would you use less? I cringe when “my” commander- in chief refuses to use tools I know we have, a veteran, I know what is at.our disposal. Failure to use the proper caliber bullet on a big man is where u die.please Mr,President, ….use what we/you..have at our disposal…why would you not?

  • Arjuna says:

    Beautiful point:
    “The only thing that works and we broke, are dictators. Hussein, Qaddafi, Assad, etc. If we had left well enough alone, we would not have this mess.”
    Our President does not understand the difference between activism and anarchy. Americans don’t understand that a lot of the world’s population doesn’t share our fetish for democracy and so-called equality. They’d rather have something else. But sharia equals slavery and can’t be countenanced. Herein the Catch-22, the long, long war against fear, bigotry and superstition…

  • bob valiquette says:

    This Gar is another one of the people who are problems or idiots! To do nothing means that they will eventually bang in your door and walk out with your head! does that appeal to you? The military involvement has to be done, to degrade the enemies ability to strike everywhere! Europeans, or Merkel in particular, caused the problem in Europe with the migrant army pounding down their door!
    so Gar, what would you do? you have a lot of opimion on the matter!??

  • hart says:

    I totally agree with you sir, appreciate your courage

  • IronV says:

    Your characterization is inaccurate. We are not being “reactive.” Far from it. We are quite actively hunting down and killing their leadership.

    Ask Jihad John if a bandaid will do it…

  • IronV says:

    Dead spot on.

  • loner says:

    kill all these islamic terrorist now including hamas and hezbollah. all these groups start teaching there young kids to kill also this is programed in to each child and girls at a very young age life means nothing to these murderous blood thristy terrorist. God Bless Israel and God Bless USA, France loner


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