US troops kill ‘ISIS official’ involved in planning prison breaks
Prison breaks remain a main priority for ISIS.
U.S. troops killed an “ISIS official” during a Feb. 10 raid with partner forces that is part of wider efforts to prevent the Islamic State group from reestablishing itself in Syria and Iraq, U.S. Central Command tweeted on Wednesday.
“We can confirm Ibrahim Al Qahtani, an ISIS official associated with planning ISIS detention center attacks, was killed in the raid,” CENTCOM tweeted. “10,000+ ISIS detainees are held in Syria.”
The raid took place in Syria and it involved both U.S. troops and the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, a largely Kurdish group, CENTCOM spokesman Maj. John Moore told Task & Purpose.
U.S. troops typically work with SDF in Syria and the Kurdish Counter Terrorism Group
In Iraq for partnered operations.
As part of the Feb. 10 mission, U.S. troops captured several weapons as well as ammunition and a suicide belt, the CENTCOM tweet says.
No further information about the mission was immediately available.
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Even though it receives little media coverage these days, the fight against ISIS has continued long after the terrorist group lost its physical caliphate. In 2022, U.S. troops launched a total of 313 missions in both Iraq and Syria, CENTCOM announced in December. At least 686 suspected ISIS militants were killed during those missions, including the group’s former top leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.
Part of the U.S. military’s overall strategy to prevent a resurgence of ISIS involves targeting as many senior leaders as possible, said Nora Bensahel, a defense policy expert and political scientist with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
CENTCOM has not released any information about Al Qahtani’s role in ISIS other than that he was planning to break out ISIS prisoners. Preventing ISIS from freeing former fighters and their families from prison has proven to be a perennial challenge for U.S. troops and their partner forces in Syria.
When ISIS lost the last bit of territory that it controlled in March 2019, the SDF took tens of thousands of fighters and their family members into custody.
Since then, the SDF have launched operations to break up ISIS cells inside the Kurdish-run al-Hol detention refugee camp, which held 58,000 people as of September — 70% of whom were children, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
U.S. troops and SDF fighters also stopped five suspected ISIS militants from entering the camp in September.
ISIS continues to try to exploit vulnerable populations being held in displacement camps in Syria, the most recent quarterly report from the Lead Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve found.
“Prison breaks remained a global priority for ISIS,” the report says. “The DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] said similar to the January 2022 ISIS attack on the Ghuwayran Detention Facility, ISIS may attempt more breakout attacks on displacement camps and detention facilities.”
After visiting the al-Hol camp in November, Army Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, head of CENTCOM, said that U.S. troops would support partner forces as they try to improve conditions at the camp.
Kurilla also cautioned that the camp residents need to be rehabilitated and sent back to the countries from which they came, adding “There is no military solution here.”
“In speaking with camp administration, observing conditions, and speaking with residents, it is clear to me that there are thousands of women and children here who would embrace the chance to just go home, escape this squalor and misery, and live a normal life,” Kurilla said in a statement. “But the longer we leave them here in these conditions, the greater the chance they will instead raise the next generation of extremists.”
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