Washington, DC – Last night US military forces targeted Abu Ibrahim al Quraishi, also known as Haji Abdullah, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the successor to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said a senior administration official. During a US special forces operation that aimed to kill or capture him, Haji Abdullah detonated an explosive device that killed him, his wife, and his children.
Haji Abdullah was the driving force behind the genocide of the Yazidi religious minority in northwestern Iraq in 2014 and the enslavement of thousands of young Yazidi girls using rape as a weapon of war. “He oversaw the network that included ISIS branches worldwide from Africa to Afghanistan. He was directly overseeing activities of ISIS across Iraq and Syria, which were seeking to reconstitute under his leadership. The world is a safer place with him gone,” the senior administration official said.
Senior administration officials said that this operation was being planned for months, and President Biden received an in-depth briefing by operational commanders a month ago. President Biden gave the final go on this operation on Tuesday morning with Secretary Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, in the Oval Office.
“Thanks to the bravery of our troops, this horrible terrorist leader is no more,” said President Biden, adding that this operation “sent a strong message to terrorists around the world: We will come after you and find you.”
Senior administration officials said that the Syrian Democratic Forces provided support that was critical to the success of this mission, and they will continue to work with them “to relentlessly pursue remnants of ISIS and its leadership.”
In a statement this morning, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said that Hajii Abdullah “provided near-constant operational guidance to ISIS fighters, to include the prison break and attack at Hasakah and the slaughter of Yazidis in Iraq. He is now off the battlefield and out of command, and cannot threaten any more lives.”
Secretary Austin said the operation was specifically designed and conducted in a manner to minimize civilian casualties and praised the leadership of US Central Command and US Special Operations Command for their superb support to the planning and execution of this dangerous mission.
Briefing the press today, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the “efforts of our forces succeeded in protecting more than ten women, children and babies,” adding that the efforts included a deliberate decision by the President to execute a raid on the location, as opposed to an airstrike, despite the additional risks that it put on US forces. There were no US casualties in the two-hour operation, but one of the helicopters had to be destroyed due to a mechanical failure in the initial phase.
“The fight against ISIS continues,” said Secretary Austin as “their twisted ideology and their intent to kill, maim and terrorize still threaten our national security and the lives of countless innocents,” but that threat is now weaker.
However, according to a recent report in Reuters, “Islamic State fighters are re-emerging as a deadly threat in northern Iraq.” Their strength may have declined, but independently operating militant cells still exist in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria. In recent months they have launched increasingly bold attacks, including the prison break in Hasaka, which the SDF thwarted with airstrike support from a US-led coalition.
Per Reuters, the tensions with Iran-backed militias attacking US forces, Turkish forces bombing Kurdish separatist militants, and the raging territorial dispute between Baghdad and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region are eroding security and good governance “causing confusion that Islamic State once thrived on.”