U.S. Central Command said in a news release that Maher al-Agal was killed Tuesday and an unidentified senior official in the Islamic State group was seriously injured. The Pentagon said there were no civilian casualties, though it wasn’t possible to immediately confirm that information.
The U.S. carried out the strike outside Jindaris, a town in northwest Syria close to the Turkish border.
The attack “takes a key terrorist off the field and significantly degrades the ability of (IS) to plan, resource, and conduct their operations in the region,” said President Joe Biden in a statement. “And, like the U.S. operation in February that eliminated (IS’s) overall leader, it sends a powerful message to all terrorists who threaten our homeland and our interests around the world.”
The Islamic State group at the height of its power controlled more than 40,000 square miles (103,600 square kilometers) stretching from Syria to Iraq and ruled more than 8 million people. While the group’s territorial state collapsed in 2019, its leaders have turned to guerilla tactics and have been able to “efficiently restructure themselves organizationally,” according to the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan think tank.
The strike on al-Agal comes months after the head of the group, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, killed himself during a raid on his hideout by American special forces. The U.S. said Al-Qurayshi blew himself up along with members of his family.
According to a war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, al-Agal was a former prominent commander of the Islamic State group during its control of Raqqa and had since moved farther north to Afrin in 2020 under Turkish-backed factions. He was most recently a commander in a Turkish-backed faction called Jaysh Al-Sharqiyyah.
U.S.-led coalition forces have also targeted al-Qaeda-linked militants in Syria over the years. Last month, a U.S. drone strike killed a senior leader of the Horas al-Din group, Abu Hamzah al Yemeni.
CENTCOM has said that violent extremist organizations “continue to present a threat to America and our allies, and … al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have used the rebel-held enclave in northwestern Syria as a safe haven.”