Maher al Aqal: US kills ISIS leader in Syria in drone strike | International

The Pentagon confirmed on Tuesday the death of the leader of the Islamic State in Syria as a result of a drone attack near Afrin, in the northwest of the country. One of his lieutenants has been seriously injured. Both were hit while traveling on a motorcycle. Maher al Aqal, one of the five supreme leaders of the jihadist group, was considered responsible for developing the Islamic State (ISIS) network outside of Syria and Iraq, where the terrorist hydra became strong in 2014.

“This operation was planned in detail to ensure the success of its execution. The first assessment of what happened indicates that there have been no civilian casualties” due to the attack by the US drone, the General Staff confirmed in a statement. US drone strikes have left a long trail of collateral damage and civilian casualties in the region.

Al Aqal’s death is another blow to the jihadist group’s attempts to reorganize as a guerrilla group, after having lost a considerable area of ​​what was once the self-proclaimed ISIS caliphate. Last February, the top leader of ISIS blew himself up during an attack by the US Army in Syria.

The Islamic State, or ISIS, also called Daesh in its Arabic acronym, proclaimed its so-called caliphate in vast areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014, with the Syrian city of Raqa as the de facto capital. Although they were largely defeated in 2019, sleeper cells of the group sporadically carry out attacks in the region and also in Asian countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, targeting minority Shiites or foreign interests. The deadliest blow was the attack at Kabul airport in late August, during evacuation operations from Afghanistan, which killed 13 US soldiers.

The news about the fall of Al Aqal is surprising due to the temporary coincidence with the trip to the region of President Joe Biden, who will arrive in Israel this Wednesday and land in Saudi Arabia on Friday. The announcement of the death also occurs on the same day that the Security Council voted an extension of aid to Syria from Turkey until January 10, with a potential beneficiary population of four million people in the northwest of the Arab country (the same area where the ISIS leader has been the target of the attack). The UN mandate had expired last Sunday and it took three attempts to renew it.

The US, UK and France abstained from voting because they wanted to extend the humanitarian aid operation for a year. Russia vetoed that proposal on Friday and then failed on its own, which called for a six-month renewal.

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Biden’s trip to the region, programmed with a strong economic component – guaranteeing energy support from Saudi Arabia – now faces new challenges, such as the recently announced visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Iran next week, where he will meet with his Iranian counterparts, Ebrahim Raisi, and Turkish, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the announcement, this Monday, that Tehran is preparing to supply drones to Moscow for the war in Ukraine. It will be Putin’s second trip abroad since the start of the war, at the end of February. The Tehran trilateral will be held next Tuesday.

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