The Islamic State group’s second-in-command has been killed in a US raid, defence secretary Ash Carter announced on Friday.
Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli had been associated with Isis dating back to its earliest iteration as al-Qaida in Iraq, Carter told a news conference at the Pentagon. He was serving as finance minister and also responsible “for some external affairs and plots”.
Qaduli, reportedly about 57 years old, had been a high-profile target. The US had offered a bounty of up to $7m for information leading to him – the most for any Isis leader apart from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is valued at $10m.
Carter declined to say whether Qaduli had been killed by a drone strike or bombing raid involving manned aircraft and did not specify whether the attack occurred in Iraq or Syria. “I’m not going to say where and how it was done,” he said. “But the only thing I will say it is consistent with our strategy there which is to put pressure on Isil every single way we can, from the leadership right down to supporting local forces on the ground.”
He added that the US was “systematically eliminating” Isis’s cabinet, referring also to the killing earlier this month of Omar al-Shishani, known as “Omar the Chechen,” said to be effectively the jihadists’ defence minister. “The momentum of this campaign is now clearly on our side.”
Carter could not confirm whether Qaduli had any connection to this week’sterrorist attacks in Brussels, noting that the influence of such leaders ranges from direct training of fighters in Iraq and Syria to inspiring those abroad who are mostly self-motivated and self-radicalised.
“There’s no question that this individual and other individuals we’ve eliminated have been part of the apparatus of Isil to recruit and to motivate foreign fighters both to return from Iraq and Syria to countries in Europe and elsewhere and also simply by using the internet and other communications to do so.”
Qaduli was born in the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to Iraqi security sources quoted by Agence France-Presse. He was in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. He joined al-Qaeda in 2004, and became a deputy to the al-Qaeda chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006 by an American drone strike.
Qaduli was captured and imprisoned, but rejoined Isis in Syria after he was freed in 2012. Iraqi officials inaccurately reported that he was killed last April during a US airstrike in western Iraq.
Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi scholar and author on Isis, said: “He was a real ideologue with lots of jihadi experience and influence on many fighters. Isis consider Baghdadi as the head of the body but [Qaduli] is the soul. This is a real shock to Isis.
“[Qaduli] was in Afghanistan in 1998 and he met Bin Laden. He went back to Iraq in 2000 and lived in Sulaymaniyah and he swore allegiance to Ansar Al-Islam. In 2004, he gave allegiance to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and he was nominated to lead the Shura council (for Islamic State) in 2008.
“In 2010, Bin Laden assigned him to be the Emir of the organisation in Iraq but the Shura council went for Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi because the message from Bin Laden was late to arrive. In 2014, he effectively became Isis’s number two after the killing of Haji Bakr.”
The killing of Qaduli was welcomed in Washington. Democratic representative Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House select committee on intelligence, said: “Even as Isis perpetrates new outrages abroad, it’s so-called ‘caliphate’ is under increasing pressure, both in Syria and Iraq. This week’s successful targeting of Haji Imam is another step forward in the struggle against Isis and its brand of nihilistic jihad. Our intelligence in the region is improving, and Isis leaders know they are in the crosshairs.”
Carter, however, acknowledged that taking out Isis’s most senior figures, while valuable, would not necessarily change the course of the war. “Striking leadership is necessary but is far from sufficient,” he said. “Leaders can be replaced.
“However, these leaders have been around for a long time, they are senior, they’re experienced, and so eliminating them is an important objective and achieves an important result. But they will be replaced and we’ll continue to go after their leadership and other aspects of their capability.”
At the same briefing, the Pentagon leadership appeared to contradict previous comments about a new US marine base in Iraq and indicated that it anticipated a wave of US escalation of the war this spring.
The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford, said that marines at Fire Base Bell near Makhmour in northern Iraq had provided artillery fires for the forward advance of Iraqi forces as they prepare for a pivotal fight to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second city, from Isis.
Yet earlier this week, the spokesman for the US war command, Colonel Steve Warren, portrayed the purpose of the few hundred marines at the base as providing “force protection” for Iraqi forces and their US advisers if they come under attack from Isis, not offensive operations.
Isis rockets killed a US marine at the newly established outpost, the first US fire base of the war independent from Iraqi bases, over the weekend.
Dunford portrayed the artillery barrage as a trivial escalation, saying there was “no inconsistency between what this artillery unit did and what our aviation support does every day” in striking Isis from the air.
But Dunford and his boss, Carter, indicated that the US is likely to step up its involvement in the conflict.
They have provided Barack Obama with a palette of expanded military options, to include what Dunford called an “increase to US forces”, that they said Obama will decide on authorizing in the coming weeks.
The purpose of the escalation will be to support the Iraqi-led recapture of Mosul, although senior US officials, including the head of military intelligence, have doubted the Iraqi’s ability to take the city in 2016.
Asked to assess progress on the battlefield against Isis, Dunford warned: “While Isil has not been able to seize ground in the past several months, that hasn’t precluded them from conducting terrorist attacks and it hasn’t precluded them from conducting operations that are more akin to guerrilla operations than the conventional operations that we saw when they were seizing territory.
“I think there are a lot of reasons for us to be optimistic about the next several months but by no means would I say we’re about to break the back of Isil or that the fight is over.”
[Source:- The Guardian]