US says it killed ISIL leader Osama al-Muhajer in drone strike

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A MQ-9 Reaper flying a training mission [File: William Rio Rosado/US Air Force via EPA-EFE]

A strike on Friday resulted in the death of al-Muhajer, ISIL leader in eastern Syria, says CENTCOM.

The United States military says it has killed a leader of the ISIL (ISIS) group in eastern Syria in a drone strike.

The strike on Friday resulted in the death of Osama al-Muhajer, the US Central Command said in a statement on Sunday.

“We have made it clear that we remain committed to the defeat of ISIS throughout the region,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Michael Kurilla said, using another acronym for the ISIL armed group.

“ISIS remains a threat, not only to the region but well beyond,” he added.

According to CENTCOM, no civilians were killed in the operation but coalition forces are “assessing reports of a civilian injury”.

It said the drones used in the attack had been harassed by Russian warplanes earlier in the day.

Friday’s strike, Centcom said, “was conducted by the same MQ-9s [drones] that had … been harassed by Russian aircraft in an encounter that had lasted almost two hours”.

US drones taking part in operations against ISIL in Syria were harassed by Russian military aircraft on Thursday for the second time in 24 hours, a US commander said at the time.

Air Force Lieutenant General Alexus Grynkewich said the planes “dropped flares in front of the drones and flew dangerously close, endangering the safety of all aircraft involved”.

In another incident on Wednesday, three Russian jets dropped parachute flares in front of US drones, forcing them to take evasive action, Grynkewich has said, calling on Moscow to “cease this reckless behaviour”.

The two separate incidents on Wednesday and Thursday involving Russian warplanes and US Reaper drones were captured on video, the US said.

Earlier this year, a diplomatic dispute erupted briefly when the US claimed that Russian jets were responsible for the downing of a Reaper drone, valued at more than $30m and packed with sensitive US spying technology, operating over the Black Sea.

Moscow denied its warplanes were responsible for the drone crashing into the sea in March, but footage released by the US military showed Russian planes engaged in manoeuvres to hamper the drone’s flight path

Russia is a key ally of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

With the support of Moscow as well as Iran, Assad has clawed back much of the ground lost in the early stages of the Syrian conflict that erupted in 2011 when the government brutally repressed pro-democracy protests.

The last pockets of armed opposition to Assad’s government include large swathes of the northern rebel-held Idlib province.

The United States has about 1,000 troops deployed in Syria as part of international efforts to combat ISIL, which was defeated in Syria in 2019 but still maintains hideouts in remote desert areas and conducts frequent attacks.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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