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US Launches Air Strike on 'Senior al-Qaeda Leader' in Idlib, Syria

© AP Photo / Kirsty WigglesworthGeneral Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drone
General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper drone  - Sputnik International, 1920, 20.09.2021
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The Pentagon announced on Monday it had carried out an airstrike against a senior leader of Al-Qaeda* located in Idlib Governorate, the northern Syrian province occupied by Turkish troops and radical Muslim rebel militias.
"US forces conducted a kinetic counterterrorism strike near Idlib, Syria, today, on a senior al-Qaeda leader. Initial indications are that we struck the individual we were aiming for, and there are no indications of civilian casualties as a result of the strike," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said on Monday.
Kirby said he had no further details on the target's identity, but according to SITE Intelligence Group, media chatter by Syrian rebel groups suggests the strike killed Abu al-Bara' al-Tunisi and Abu Hamza al-Yemeni, two fighters with Tanzim Hurras ad-Din (Guardians of Religion Organization), a militia in northern Syria that is aligned with al-Qaeda.
Idlib remains the last major outpost of radical Sunni militias in rebellion against the Syria government. The dominant rebel force is Hay'at Tahrir ash-Sham (Levant Liberation Committee), which formed in 2017 as a merger between Al-Nusra Front* and several other similar militias. Al-Nusra was also known as Al-Qaeda in Syria. Hurras ad-Din, the group rumored to have been targeted by the Monday strike, split from HTS in 2016, believing it to have to deviated from al-Qaeda's ideology.
The US long supported al-Nusra and other so-called "moderate rebels" during the Syrian Civil War, believing they would overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Speaking last month after the Taliban* captured the Afghan capital of Kabul and the US-backed Afghan government had collapsed, US President Joe Biden said the 20-year-long War on Terror that began with the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was not yet over, and that the threat of al-Qaeda had "metastasized" elsewhere, naming Syria as one theater of operations that would continue.
One airstrike during the final days of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan has drawn global condemnation after it was revealed the strike targeted a civilian vehicle and not a bomb-laden car driven by Daesh* militants en route to attack US forces. The strike killed 10 civilians, seven of whom were children. US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Frank McKenzie called the strike a "mistake" and said the Pentagon was investigating it. CENTCOM also oversees US operations in Syria.
The US also maintains an occupation force of 900 troops in eastern Syria, where it has garrisoned several of Syria's oil fields, the products of which are exported eastward through Iraq by truck instead of westward along existing gas lines, where the Syrian government would be able to sell it. Their presence is ostensibly in support of Kurdish militias who are continuing to fight Daesh* remnants in the region. The Russian Foreign Ministry, which supports the Syrian government in its fight against rebel forces, recently denounced the ongoing presence of US troops in Syria as a "de fact partition" of the country, preventing reunification and reconstruction.
*terrorist groups outlawed in many countries
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