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Middle East News
Several Islamic State Leaders Killed in Iraq, U.S. Says
From the Wall Street Journal of Thu, 18 Dec 2014 21:49:32 EST
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, shown at a briefing in September.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, shown at a briefing in September. Associated Press

WASHINGTON—U.S. airstrikes have killed three military leaders of the extremist group Islamic State in Iraq in recent weeks, the Pentagon’s top uniformed officer said Thursday.

The action came as U.S. and Iraqi forces step up operations in Iraq, officials said, part of an expanding coalition effort ahead of an expected offensive next year to try to retake key cities seized by the militant group.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that the strikes that killed the military leaders were designed to hamper Islamic State’s ability to conduct attacks, supply fighters and finance operations.

“It is disruptive to their planning and command and control,” Gen. Dempsey said. “These are high-value targets, senior leadership.”

Defense officials said the operations to kill senior and midlevel Islamic State commanders are beginning to weaken the group’s leadership structure in Iraq.

A Kurdish fighter holds clothing of an Islamic State fighter in an area of battles near Iraq’s Sinjar Mountain.
A Kurdish fighter holds clothing of an Islamic State fighter in an area of battles near Iraq’s Sinjar Mountain. Associated Press

However, officials and military analysts also cautioned that militant groups such as Islamic State are able to replace commanders killed in battle. That leaves it unclear whether recent strikes will have a lingering impact on the group’s ability to command and control its forces.

Islamic State is also known as ISIS or ISIL, as well as by its Arabic label acronym Daesh.

U.S. military strikes between Dec. 3 and Dec. 9 killed Abd al Basit, the head of Islamic State’s military operations in Iraq, and Haji Mutazz, a key deputy to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group’s top leader, officials said.

In late November, another strike killed a midlevel commander, Radwin Talib, Islamic State’s “governor” in Mosul, Iraq, officials said. Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, was captured by Islamic State in June.

In November and December, U.S. airstrikes on Iraq have killed a total of seven important Islamic State figures, officials said. Defense officials said Iraq remains the first priority of American operations.

“We’ve bombed their oil production, we struck the Humvees and MRAPs they stole from us and now we are targeting their leadership,” said a defense official.

Ahmed Ali, an analyst at the Institute of the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank that closely monitors the developments, said the recent strikes were significant.

“These are big hits and eliminating these figures always temporarily disrupts the organization,” Mr. Ali said. He described Mr. Mutazz, also known as Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, as one of Mr. Baghdadi’s “closest and most senior aides.”

Mr. Basit, also known as Abd al-Basit Inad Allah Mulla Gaidh, was considered the group’s top military expert, Mr. Ali said. He said Mr. Talib was also sometimes identified as Radwin Talib Hamdun.

Despite those losses, Mr. Ali said the killing of these senior figures likely “will not end the organization.”

A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter walks between burning vehicles on Thursday following an Islamic State attack in a village in northern Iraq, near the border with Syria.
A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter walks between burning vehicles on Thursday following an Islamic State attack in a village in northern Iraq, near the border with Syria. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

“Hitting Baghdadi will represent a make-or-break moment for ISIS,” Mr. Ali said. “But for now, ISIS leadership bench and command structure are deep.”

David Phillips, director of Columbia University’s Program on Peace-building and Rights, said targeting leaders was a necessary step in the long-term process of combating Islamic State militants.

However, the survival of the group’s public leadership means recruitment will continue, he said in an interview from Erbil, Iraq.

“Their ranks are pretty full. Baghdadi is still there and he is the symbol of the movement,” he said.

“So it is part of a long-term process to degrade the Islamic State, but I don’t think it is a threshold moment.”

Gen. Dempsey shed light on the nature of the battle, saying U.S. and Iraqi forces are fighting Islamic State not as a nation-state, but as a network of militants, much as the U.S. faced during its last war in Iraq.

“It is in the context of how to fight a network,” he said. “It is not a country. They have claimed it, but they are not. They are a network, so they have finances, they have logistics and they have leaders.”

The operations against the group’s leadership come as the U.S. is increasing strikes around Sinjar, Iraq, in support of Iraqi Kurdish forces, and is working to open a corridor between Dahuk, in Kurdish-controlled Iraq, and Mosul, the largest city controlled by Islamic State forces.

U.S. officials wouldn’t say precisely when the Iraqis intend to begin operations being planned for retaking Mosul.

But the strikes by the U.S. are intended to help Iraqi forces isolate the city, cut off Islamic State’s supply lines and establish supply lines for Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

“All these operations are with an intent to isolate Mosul,” said a senior military official. “We are trying to set the conditions for the eventual operation in Mosul.”

Islamic State forces, which began seizing control of Sunni areas in Iraq in 2013, accelerated an offensive this year, routing neglected and disheveled Iraqi forces in the North and taking over Mosul. Militants soon turned to Kurdish dominated areas, killing members of Iraqi religious minorities and marching on the pro-U.S. Kurdish regional capital of Erbil.

Washington in August began a campaign of airstrikes, expanding them to Syria in September to target Islamic State forces there. Meanwhile, the White House has steadily increased the number of U.S. troops in Iraq, with plans now allowing for more than 3,000 service members.

U.S. military personnel remain divided over the prowess of the Iraqi security forces. While Iraqi operations and U.S. airstrikes they have stopped the Islamic State’s forward advance for now, some U.S. officials question the Iraqi military’s ability to retake and hold the large tracts of territory that the Islamic State has conquered.

At a news conference at the Pentagon on Thursday, Lt. Gen. James Terry, the commander of the U.S. mission in Iraq and Syria, said that while significant progress has been made in halting Islamic State’s offensive, it still will take a minimum of three years for Iraqi security forces to fully establish their capabilities.

Gen. Terry said the U.S. had conducted 1,361 airstrikes as of Thursday, many in support of Iraqi operations

“Combined efforts like these are having a significant effect on Daesh’s ability to command and control, to resupply and to conduct maneuvering,” he said. “We will continue to be persistent in this regard and we will strike Daesh at every possible opportunity.”

Write to Julian E. Barnes at

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