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U.S. conducts back-to-back raids in Syria, killing key ISIS operatives

This image from video released on Feb. 3 shows the compound before a raid where Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, leader of the Islamic State group, died in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. (Defense Department/AP)

The U.S. military announced Thursday that it had conducted two raids in Syria within a day of each other, killing two key Islamic State targets and their associates.

According to U.S. Central Command, American forces conducted an airstrike in northern Syria on Thursday that targeted and killed Abu-Hashum al-Umawi, a deputy wali, or governor, in Syria, as well as “another senior ISIS official associated with him,” whom the military did not name.

“This strike will degrade ISIS’s ability to destabilize the region and strike at our forces and partners,” Army Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, who leads U.S. Central Command, said in a statement announcing the raid and Umawi’s death. “Our forces remain in the region to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

The operation against Umawi followed a Wednesday night helicopter raid in northeastern Syria, near the village of Qamishli, that targeted and killed Rakkan Wahid al-Shammri, as well as one other associate. Shammri was an Islamic State smuggler known to bring in weapons, fighters and money to support the terrorist organization, who had also beheaded two members of the Syrian Defense Forces, according to a person familiar with the operation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the particulars of the raid and its target.

The raids are the latest in recent operations aimed at killing influential Islamic State figures. Over the summer, U.S. military forces killed Hani Ahmed al-Kurdi, a senior Islamic State bombmaker known as the “Wali of Raqqa.” That followed the killing of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the group’s leader at the time, who is believed to have rigged his hideout in Atma, Syria, with explosives that were detonated when the structure was raided.

The Qurayshi operation became mired in a greater controversy about whether the U.S. military had taken enough steps to ensure the safety of civilians after UNICEF and local witnesses counted at least five children dead. In the aftermath of that strike, U.S. forces have been careful to point out that successful raids against Islamic State targets have not resulted in civilian injury or death.

U.S. Central Command’s Thursday announcements about the most recent raids on the group varied slightly, however, in the certainty with which they proclaimed the operations had avoided causing civilian harm.

“No U.S. forces were injured or killed during the operation, no civilians were killed or wounded, and there was no loss or damage to U.S. equipment,” the news release announcing the Shammri killing stated.

While the news release announcing the death of Umawi stated with similar confidence that there had been no injuries among U.S. forces and no damage to U.S. equipment, the status report on civilians was slightly less assured.

“Initial assessments indicate no civilians were killed or wounded during this operation,” that announcement stated.