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Middle East Amp North Africa
US says strike killed senior Isis leaders
From the Financial Times of Fri, 19 Dec 2014 00:11:02 GMT

Two senior Isis commanders have been killed by US and coalition air strikes in northern Iraq over the past week, US officials said on Thursday.

The loss of such high-ranking members of its leadership was affecting the ability of militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to conduct military operations, the officials said.

The news represents a rare claim of success by the US military in its campaign in Iraq and Syria, which has concentrated largely on preventing further Isis advances while Iraqi forces prepare for a ground offensive next year.

The two leaders were named as Abd al Basit, a leading figure in the group’s military operations in Iraq, and Haji Mutazz, a close aide to Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. A mid-ranking Isis official was also killed, US officials said.

Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon spokesman, said that the loss of key leaders would “degrade” the group’s ability to conduct operations against Iraqi security forces.

“These are high-value targets, senior leadership,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told the Wall Street Journal. “It is disruptive to their planning and command and control.”

Lieutenant General James Terry, the commander of the US mission in Iraq and Syria, told reporters on Thursday that coalition forces had conducted a total of 1,361 air strikes in the two countries since September.

He said that Isis advances had been “halted” and that the group had “transitioned to defence and is attempting to hold what they currently have.” Lt Gen Terry refused to give a timeline for an Iraqi counter-offensive in Mosul, which has been the main focus of Iraqi and US military preparations in recent weeks.

Speaking at a congressional hearing last week, Brett McGurk, one of the senior US officials involved in managing the coalition, said that around 1,000 Isis fighters had been killed in US-led air strikes.

The administration has faced sharp criticism from Congress over its strategy in Iraq and Syria. Ed Royce, the California Republican who chairs the House foreign affairs committee, told the same hearing that he was worried about “dithering” in the US response. While Isis had been advancing “city by city”, the administration was characterised by “still no action, still discussions”, he said.

The news about top-level Isis deaths came as a leaked CIA report cast doubt on the effectiveness of military strikes that target senior figures in extremist groups. The confidential CIA report, which was leaked by the group WikiLeaks, said that the Taliban had demonstrated a “high overall ability to replace lost leaders”. Referring to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a forerunner of Isis, the report said that it “initially lost several iterations of its senior leadership and numerous local emirs, but these losses initially did little to slow AQI’s momentum”.

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