U.S.-backed and led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are trying to locate the key leaders of the Islamic State that are hiding along the Syria-Iraq border. The SDF along with the coalition has an ongoing operation to clear ISIS from the last of their Syrian strongholds.
The U.S.-backed operation, code-named al-Jazeera Storm, was launched last week to remove IS from the rest of the territory it still controls in Deir el-Zour province in eastern Syria.
The forces say the area contains hundreds of IS remnants and key leaders, foreign and local, who took shelter in the vast desert terrain border area after surviving the intense battles in Mosul and the self-proclaimed capital Raqqa.
“Powerful military figures of IS, including international terrorists, are hiding in the region,” said Abu Khawla, the commander of Deir el-Zour Military Council.
He said the fate of the IS leaders will be either “capture or death” as the militants face a siege from the Iraqi army and allied Shiite militias on the Iraqi side and an advancing U.S.-backed operation on the Syrian side.
The U.S.-backed SDF in the past weeks has caught several IS leaders in Deir el-Zour as it closed in on the group. Last month, the force announced it detained German militant and the suspected September 11 recruiter Mohammed Haydar Zammar in northern Syria.
Abu Adil, a member of SDF’s counterterrorism unit who took part in the operation to capture Zammar, told VOA that the fighter was hiding in a compound in eastern Deir el-Zour which was surrounded during a raid that took several hours. “He surrendered to us after about one hour of negotiation,” said Adil.
The U.S.-led coalition and local partners have been targeting IS senior personnel in Iraq and Syria since 2014 to disrupt the organization’s structure and ability to recruit and train members. The coalition airstrikes in 2016 killed the IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani and IS chief commander Abu Omar al-Shishani.
Also included in the ISIS top leaders reportedly in the area is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted man, with a $25 million bounty on his head. He’s been reported to have been killed several times since 2007, but thus far, there is no proof he’s been killed.
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File photo of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi giving a sermon in Iraq