Isis leader killed by US drone strike in Syria, Pentagon says

Russian jets had interfered with US mission just hours earlier

John Bowden
Washington DC
Sunday 09 July 2023 13:23 EDT
Moment Russian fighter jets harass US drones over Syria

US Reaper drones in Syria were able to seek out and kill a top Isis commander on Friday despite interference from the Russian military, the Pentagon said.

In a statement to The Independent on Sunday, the Defense Department said that a group of Reaper aircraft destroyed a motorcycle being ridden by Usamah al-Muhajir, thought by US forces to be a top commander of Islamic State forces remaining in the Aleppo region of Syria. Isis has been pushed out of every inch of territory over which it once claimed military control, but pockets of fighters and leaders of the terrorist group remain dispersed around the region, plotting attacks against Syrian forces and the west.

“We have made it clear that we remain committed to the defeat of ISIS throughout the region,” said Gen Michael Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command. [CENTCOM]. “ISIS remains a threat, not only to the region but well beyond.”

The Pentagon’s press release added: “There are no indications that any civilians were killed in this strike, and the coalition is assessing reports of a civilian injury. This will disrupt and degrade ISIS’s ability to plan and conduct terror attacks. However, CENTCOM’s operations against ISIS, alongside partner forces in Iraq and Syria, will continue in order to achieve the group’s enduring defeat.”

Photos and video released by the agency showed the moment that the aircraft were confronted by Russian fighter jets carrying out “unsafe” maneuvers as they sought their target, which according to defence officials took place just hours before the successful strike.

“The strike on Friday was conducted by the same MQ-9s that had, earlier in the day, been harassed by Russian aircraft in an encounter that had lasted almost two hours,” explained the agency.

A similar set of incidents has occurred in recent days involving Russian aircraft and Nato forces over Syria — the US has blamed Russian aircraft for a number of incidents involving drone craft, while the French military last week accused Russian forces of what it described as a “non-professional interaction” in the same region.

Pentagon officials had initially addressed the harassment on Friday, without announcing the successful operation that had taken place.

“Earlier today three MQ-9 drones were once again harassed by Russian fighter aircraft while flying over Syria. During the almost two hour encounter, Russian aircraft flew 18 unprofessional close passes that caused the MQ-9s to react to avoid unsafe situations,” Air Force Lt Gen Alex Grynkewich said in a Friday statement.

“We continue to encourage Russia to return to the established norms of a professional Air Force so we can all return our focus to ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS,” he added.

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