Da’esh said on Tuesday, August 30th that one of its most prominent and longest-serving leaders was killed in what appeared to be an American air strike in Syria, depriving the militant group of the man in charge of directing attacks overseas. A U.S. defense official told Reuters the United States targeted Abu Muhammad al-Adnani in a Tuesday strike on a vehicle traveling in the Syrian town of al-Bab. The official stopped short of confirming Adnani’s death, however.
Adnani was also Da’esh spokesman, thereby one of the most visible members of the group. As head of external operations, he was in charge of attacks overseas, including Europe, that have become an increasingly important tactic for the group as its core Iraqi and Syrian territory has been eroded by military losses. The group reacted by saying his death would not harm it, and his killers would face “torment”, a statement in the group’s al-Naba newspaper said, according to the Site Intelligence monitoring group. “Today, they rejoice for the killing … and then they will cry much when Allah will overpower them, with His permission, with affliction of the worst torment by the soldiers of Abu Muhammad and his brothers,” the statement said.
The official said Adnani’s roles as propaganda chief and director of external operations had become “indistinguishable” because the group uses its online messages to recruit fighters and provide instruction and inspiration for attacks. “Islamic State”‘s Amaq News Agency reported that Adnani was killed “while surveying the operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo.” Islamic State holds territory in the province of Aleppo, but not in the city where rebels are fighting Syrian government forces.
Adnani was a Syrian from Binish in Idlib, southwest of Aleppo, who pledged allegiance to Islamic State’s predecessor, al Qaeda, more than a decade ago and was once imprisoned by U.S. forces in Iraq, according to the Brookings Institution. A senior Syrian rebel official said Adnani was most probably killed in the Islamic State-held city of al-Bab in an air strike. Citing unconfirmed reports, he said Adnani was in the Aleppo region to raise morale in the face of mounting pressure.
There was a $5 million reward on his head under the U.S. “Rewards for Justice” program. Among senior “Islamic State” officials killed in air strikes this year are Abu Ali al-Anbari, Baghdadi’s formal deputy, and the group’s “minister of war”, Abu Omar al-Shishani. Adnani had joined the group under its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The recent High-Value Targeting is most probably the result of many risky and major intelligence gathering operations undertaken by US Special Operators on the ground, local assets, partner fighter and of course, IMINT, COMINT and what-not. But the level of pressure that ISIS is exposed to, with huge territory losses in Iraq and significant in Syria, the terror organization may be losing it’s head. Going after the leadership is a major enemy-centrist COIN (Counter-Insurgency) operations principle and the US is expected to continue doing so.