Saturday, June 6, 2015

US Special Forces' Operation in Syria - The Killing of Islamic Leader Abu Sayyaf

Unlike other operations of the US Special Forces, the raid which resulted in the killing of an Islamic State leader in Syria in mid-May 2015 did not receive much publicity. The raid, nevertheless, illustrates the effectiveness of the Delta Force and the intelligence gathered on the shadowy organization and its leaders. 

The US Special Forces carried out a rare raid in Eastern Syria around the middle of May 2015 killing an Islamic State leader Tunisian-born Abu Sayyaf described as the Islamic State’s “emir of oil and gas.” About a dozen IS fighters were also killed in the raid. The commandos captured the wife of Abu Sayyaf, known as Umm Sayaff and rescued an 18 year old Yazidi woman who had been held as a slave. While details of the operation have not been revealed, it has been reported that that about two dozen commandos belonging to the Delta Force entered Syria aboard Black Hawk helicopters and V-22 Ospreys on 15-16 May 2015 and killed Abu Sayyaf.

“Abu Sayyaf was a senior ISIL leader who, among other things, had a senior role in overseeing ISIL’s illicit oil and gas operations — a key source of revenue that enables the terrorist organization to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan in a statement.

Oil smuggling provides "a key source of revenue that enables [Islamic State] to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians". the White House said.

According to an official of the Department of Defense IS fighters who defended the building and Abu Sayyaf tried to use women and children as shields, but Delta Force commandos used precision fire and separated the women and children. The operation, it is learnt, involved close hand-to-hand combat.

The commandos involved in the raid came under fire as soon as they landed near a multi-storey building used by Abu Sayyaf as his residence, in al-Amr, about 20 miles south-east of Deir al-Zour, near the oil facilities that he administered for the Islamic State. Around a dozen Islamic State fighters were killed in the exchange of fire with the US forces. According to reports, Abu Sayyaf “tried to engage” the commandos and was shot and killed. The commandos thereafter took his wife and the Yazidi woman back to the waiting aircraft. The raiding team was back in Iraq with the two women around dawn. Defense Department officials stated that the commandos succeeded in seizing laptop computers, cell phones and other materials from the site which may assist in intelligence assessments.

The objective of the night raid was perhaps to capture Sayyaf alive, but, he was reportedly killed after trying to “engage” U.S. forces. Still, both the Pentagon and the White House hailed the mission as a success, resulting not only in the seizure of some of Sayyaf’s communications equipment and other potentially valuable materials, but also the capture of his wife, Umm Sayyaf, who is also suspected to be a member of the Islamic State and a key player in the group’s terrorist activities.

The Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, in a statement said that the killing of Sayyaf dealt a significant blow to the group. The slain leader was said to be involved in the terror group’s military operations and managed its “illicit oil, gas and financial operations” that enabled the Islamic State to raise funds for it to operate. According to DoD officials, the raid was approved by President Obama. While Carter declared the operation — Sayyaf’s death included — a “significant blow” to the Islamic State, some experts responded to the announcement with caution.

In an interview with the New York Times, former CIA analyst and White House national security advisor Bruce Riedel said it seemed like the raid was “a collection mission, the goal to capture someone or two someones who can explain how ISIS works.”

While suggesting that, in lieu of Sayyaf, “perhaps the wife can do that,” Riedel added, “To me, it demonstrates we still have large gaps in our understanding of the enemy and how it is organized.”

CNN’s analyst Peter Bergen was also skeptical. Pointing out that raids like the one on Sayyaf likely put the Islamic State’s leadership on high alert to operate more carefully, he questioned the real value of the mission.

“Taking out the guy who runs effectively the most important financing stream is obviously significant,” he said. “But what’s really significant is the computer records and all the materials that he would have with him as the head of this financing arm, if indeed that is the case that he is really that important.”


Peter Coates said...

Hi Kumar

An excellent article.

I would say the US would have preferred to capture Sayyaf if that had been feasible.

As with the Abbottabad raid this latest raid provided proof that they had killed the VIP target. A raid allowed a haul of electronic records and his wife were collected.

Instead of only being capable of aerial bombing (which provides no proof of death) the US has demonstated that no-one in the ISIS leadership are safe.



Kumar said...

Hi Pete

Thanks for the comments. The US is changing its strategy. Without American boots on the ground, it is going to be difficult to neutralise the ISIS. US/UK Special Forces need to work in tandem with the coalition forces to counter the ISIS. Obama cannot disengage from the Middle East.