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US Special Forces Kill IS Commander in Syria, Capture Wife

by VOA News, Heather Murdock May 16, 2015

U.S. special forces have killed a top Islamic State commander and captured his wife in eastern Syria, the White House and Pentagon said Saturday.

The overnight raid targeted a Tunisian man known as Abu Sayyaf, who Washington sources describe as being involved in the militant group's military and financial operations. That includes the black-market oil operation funding much of the organization's activities.

The IS leader's wife, an Iraqi known as Umm Sayyaf, now is in U.S. military detention in Iraq.

The White House said U.S. President Barack Obama late Friday directed the Pentagon to send U.S. personnel based in Iraq to conduct the operation in al-Omar.

U.S. special forces 'killed about a dozen' Islamic State fighters but no civilians, a Defense Department official told VOA, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'There were some women and children around, and they [the Islamic State fighters] were trying to use them as human shields.'

'The fighting got fairly intense,' the official added, describing hand-to-hand combat in close quarters.

One official told Reuters the elite Delta Force participated in the mission, arriving by helicopter. Aircraft including UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and V-22 Osprey reportedly were involved.

During the raid, a young Yazidi woman held by the couple was also freed.

U.S. personnel unharmed

No U.S. personnel were killed or injured in the operation, according to National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.

The U.S. and several partner countries have conducted daily airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq for months, but have strictly limited the participation of ground forces. The coalition carried out a combined 21 aerial raids overnight.

U.S. officials said the raid that netted the commander was not a result of cooperation with President Bashar Assad's government.

Strategic message?

Yan St-Pierre, the CEO of Berlin-based security consulting firm MOSECON, said the announcement was intended to deliver a psychological blow to the Islamic State to slow its momentum.

'Usually, these announcements don't come within a few hours of the kill being executed. Rather, maybe a day later. They want to confirm that the target was indeed killed,' St-Pierre told VOA. '... But over the past 24 hours, past 48 hours, with ISIS making so much progress, it probably added to the pressure of having to act quicker than they wanted.'

The oil field raid overnight comes after Islamic State militants gained ground in Iraq, raising their black flag over the city of Ramadi Friday.

Still, St-Pierre said, the operation was likely planned well before the most recent IS offensive and appears to have been successful from a military standpoint. In Washington, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in a statement that the operation is 'another significant blow' to the Islamic State group.

But according to St-Pierre, it is unclear how much harm it will cause the Islamic State. He said Abu Sayyaf was a known jihadi specializing in logistics and finance.

'Any time you hit an organization's money guys or logistics people, it is a blow,' St-Pierre said. 'But an organization like ISIS, they usually have contingency plans. There's always someone ready or willing to take over if something happens. So it is a blow, but not that large of a blow.'

Syria claims attack

Syrian state media said government forces also targeted IS militants in the al-Omar area east of Deir Ezzor, killing a 'large number' of fighters and a senior Islamic State leader. It identified the commander as Abu al-Teem al-Saudi, a national of Saudi Arabia.

The Britain-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights confirmed an oil field attack but did not attribute responsibility for the 19 people it reported were killed there.

The Islamic State group took control of major oil fields in Syria in July, when militants overran northern and eastern sections of the country.

The overnight raid marked the first known operation by U.S. special forces inside Syria since the unsuccessful secret effort early last summer to free U.S. and foreign hostages being held by the Islamic State group in the country's northeast. Obama disclosed the failed mission to free American journalist James Foley and others last August, a day after the terrorist group released a video showing the journalist's beheading.

VOA's Carol Guensburg contributed to this report.

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