WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The US-led coalition continues to assess whether Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Daesh terror group (banned in numerous countries), is still alive, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Ryan Dillon said in a briefing on Thursday.
"Without verifiable evidence of his death, we have continued to assume that he is alive," Dillon said when asked about the coalition’s assessment as to whether Baghdadi is alive or dead.
The coalition has "professionals" specifically looking for Baghdadi and other high-value targets, Dillon said.
Between September 12-14, coalition forces killed three drone developers with ties to Daesh, Dillon said.
"In a Pentagon press briefing early this month I announced the coalition successful strikes on high-value individuals all tied to ISIS’s [Daesh] unmanned surveillance network, today we’ll add three more to that list," Dillon said.
Dillon noted that the three targets were killed September 12-14 in coalition airstrikes.
Two of the targets killed were responsible for manufacturing and modifying commercially-produced drones while the third target operated a drone research lab, Dillon said.
The removal of the three IS officials disrupts the group’s ability to use drones for reconnaissance or as a weapon, he added.
Daesh has around 400 to 800 fighters left in the Syrian city of Raqqa, and more than 75 percent of the city has been cleared, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Ryan Dillon also stated.
"We had estimated between 400 and 800 ISIS fighters remain in Raqqa, and we're talking about a 4 square kilometer area," Dillon told reporters.
The spokesman said more than 75 percent of Raqqa has been cleared of Daesh terrorists, after gnificant progress was made by the coalition last week.
He added, however, that the majority of Daesh fighters who remain in the city are "foreign fighters and hardcore fighters that will fight to the death."
The fighters are holed up in multi-story buildings in the city and still hold the stadium and national hospital compound, which the terrorists have turned into a headquarters, Dillon said.
In previous statements, Pentagon claimed that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was likely alive and is hiding in the Middle Euphrates River Valley between Iraq and Syria.
The whereabouts of the Daesh top militant have been unknown for a quite long time. The Russian Defense Ministry in June said Baghdadi had been likely eliminated as a result of a Russian Aerospace Forces strike in Raqqa in late May. It noted that it was in the process of confirming the information through various channels.
However, the US National Counterterrorism Center director has put the claims into a question, saying there were no indications of Baghdadi's death.
Al-Baghdadi appeared in the media for the first time in 2014 when he declared the creation of a caliphate in the Middle East. Since then, the media several times reported about the death of Daesh leader, though the information has never been confirmed.
Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Ryan Dillon also commented on the recent coalition actions against Daesh in Iraq, saying that the focus has been lost in the wake of a Kurdish referendum on independence.
"There are plenty of things that have been said and things that are drawing attention away from defeating ISIS [Daesh]. The focus is not on ISIS as it was prior to the referendum," Dillon said.