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Airmen with the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft armament systems specialists walk past MQ-9 Reapers with the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on Aug. 18, 2014.

Airmen with the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft armament systems specialists walk past MQ-9 Reapers with the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan on Aug. 18, 2014. (Evelyn Chavez/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military killed two al-Qaida leaders involved in attack-planning in separate drone strikes last month in Syria and Yemen, a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday.

A strike Oct. 17 near Idlib, Syria killed Haydar Karkan, a longtime member of al-Qaida who was involved in planning external terrorist attacks on western targets, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

An airstrike four days later in a remote area of Marib Governorate in central Yemen killed Abu Hadi al Bayhani, an al-Qaida leader in the Arabian Peninsula, Davis said.

Those strikes were among three counterterrorism airstrikes that targeted top al-Qaida leaders in three separate countries last month. The third, an Oct. 23 strike in northwestern Kunar province in Afghanistan, targeted senior al-Qaida leaders Faruq al-Qatani and Bilal al-Utabi. Davis said the United States was still assessing the results of that airstrike. Their deaths would be a “significant blow” to the group in Afghanistan, he added.

Al-Qaida remains a threat throughout the Middle East and southwest Asia where it has taken advantage of turmoil in several countries to occupy territory as safe havens to plan terrorist attacks and train militants.

Davis said the U.S. military is committed to attacking the group wherever it remains.

“Al-Qaida doesn’t recognize borders. They conspired to commit terrorist attacks against the West and we will continue to work with our partners and allies to find and destroy their leaders, their fighters and their cells where they’re planning attacks,” he said.

Karkan was the organization’s most senior external attack planner in Syria, Davis said. He had ties to al-Qaida’s most senior leaders, including its founder Osama bin Laden, and was responsible for the group’s terrorist activities within Syria, Turkey and throughout Europe, Davis said.

Karkan was “actively involved” in planning terrorist attacks in those areas, Davis said, but he declined to provide specific examples.

Al Bayhani was “a capable and experienced operational planner” for al-Qaida in Yemen, Davis said. The Arabian Peninsula faction of the terrorist group has long committed itself to launching attacks against the West. It claimed responsibility for the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, in which 12 people were killed.

Four additional al-Qaida militants in the Arabian Peninsula were killed in the Oct. 21 airstrike that targeted al Bayhani, according to U.S. Central Command.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.
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