Islamic State leaders with direct links to the Paris terrorist attacks have been killed by US air and drone strikes in Syria and Iraq, a spokesman for the US-led coalition said.
One of the killed was Charaffe al Mouadan, a Syrian-based IS leader with a direct link to Paris attack organizer Abdelhamid Abaaoud. Another was Abdul Qader Hakim, who facilitated Islamic State’s external operations and had links to the Paris attack network, said US Army Colonel Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve in Kabul. Hakim was killed on December 26 in Mosul.
“Over the past month we’ve killed 10 ISIL leadership figures with targeted air strikes, including several external attack planners, some of whom are linked to the Paris attacks,” Warren said.
Asked to quantify the effect the airstrikes have had on the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Warren said that battlefield successes of the US-backed Iraqi, Kurdish and militia forces showed the targeting of leadership was effective.
“Any organization that sees its middle and upper management degraded in such a way is going to lose some of its synergy,” the spokesman said. “We’re striking at the head of this snake,” he added, but “we haven’t severed the head yet, and it still has fangs.”
Much of the briefing on Tuesday was given to operational details of the battle for Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province seized by Islamic State in May. Though Iraqi forces have recaptured the center of the city, Warren declined to give a timeline of when Ramadi would be fully cleared, saying that many obstacles, traps and mines still remain.
Concerning the Iraqi claims that the coalition airstrikes amounted to 80 percent of the effort in retaking Ramadi, Warren called it a “fair assessment,” saying that there were over 600 strikes with more than 2,500 “kinetic events” involved in the operation so far.
He estimated fewer than 200 IS fighters remained in the city, down from about 1,000 at the height of the battle.
“The rest are dead,” Warren told reporters.
US ground troops stationed at the nearby Al-Taqaddum airbase provided training, advice and assistance to the Iraqis, but were not engaged in the battle.
“There were no US ground forces involved in any way, shape or form,” in taking Ramadi, Warren said. The Iraqi military did the brunt of the work on the ground, with the small groups of US-trained Sunni militia cycling through the battlefield but not playing a significant role in combat operations. They are expected to be the crucial holding force in Ramadi after the city is cleared, however.
When the US left Iraq in 2011, the army they left behind was trained for counter-insurgency, not conventional warfare, so it was easily defeated by IS forces, Warren explained. After the rebuilding effort by the US, the Iraqis have been able to conduct combined-arms operations almost entirely on their own, which Warren described as “grown-up work.”
While declining to give a timeline for attacks on Fallujah or Mosul, two other major Iraqi cities under IS control, Warren told reporters that battles for them were in the “shaping phase,” with US-backed forces seeking to cut IS communications and position themselves along the approaches to both cities before they besiege them.
“We still have a fight ahead of us,” he said.