US says it killed nearly 700 Islamic State suspects this year
The Washington Post December 30, 2022
American military personnel, together with local forces in Iraq and Syria, killed nearly 700 suspected members of the Islamic State in 2022, officials said Thursday, highlighting an aggressive counterterrorism campaign that quietly endures five years after a U.S.-led coalition destroyed the militant group's caliphate.
U.S. forces conducted 108 joint operations in the past year against alleged ISIS operatives in Syria and an additional 191 in Iraq, U.S. Central Command said in a statement, which notes that American troops undertook another 14 missions by themselves and only inside Syria. Nearly 400 suspects were detained, it says.
"The emerging, reliable and steady ability of our Iraqi and Syrian partner forces to conduct unilateral operations to capture and kill ISIS leaders allows us to maintain steady pressure on the ISIS network," Maj. Gen. Matt McFarlane, the top commander of the task force overseeing these operations, said in the statement.
Last year, following the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden declared at the United Nations that the United States would no longer "fight the wars of the past." But in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon maintains contingents of about 2,500 and 900 troops, respectively, who still occasionally come under enemy fire.
Biden, writing in an opinion piece published in July by The Washington Post, said that the Middle East is "more stable and secure" than when his administration took over in January 2021, highlighting the U.S. operation in February that killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, then the leader of the Islamic State. The group has affiliates elsewhere, including in Afghanistan and parts of Africa.
Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, said in Thursday's statement that the American military is approaching the campaign in three ways: Pursuing the group's leaders through partnered operations with local forces, continuing to detain Islamic State members in the region, and attempting to prevent children from being radicalized.
The U.S. military in September disclosed that, combined with Syrian partner forces, it has carried out dozens of raids on the al-Hol detention camp in northeast Syria, a sprawling facility in the desert that houses tens of thousands of people, many considered to be Islamic State sympathizers, and either the wives or children of men who joined the militant group.
The United States has found a model to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that is sustainable, said Col. Joe Buccino, a U.S. military spokesman. With Iraqi and Syrian forces taking a leading role, he said, no U.S. troops were killed or seriously injured during any of the counter-ISIS operations undertaken this past year.
But deployed U.S. forces continue to face other threats.
In Syria, operations were upended last month by Turkey, a NATO ally, which launched cross-border strikes on the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main U.S. partner against the Islamic State there. Turkey considers the SDF to be a segment of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which Washington and Ankara alike have designated a terrorist organization. The United States has drawn a distinction, however, saying that the SDF has been a reliable and courageous partner in countering the Islamic State.
U.S. forces paused partner operations with the SDF for days as Turkey threatened to launch a ground invasion into Syria, before resuming them early in December.
In both Iraq and Syria, U.S. forces also have had to remain vigilant against both the Islamic State and Iranian-backed militias that have sought to drive the United States out of the country. In one recent example, three U.S. troops were wounded in Syria in August when Iranian-backed militias launched rockets at two U.S. military positions. U.S. forces responded, military officials said, with attack helicopters that destroyed three vehicles and weapons used to launch the rockets.
ISIS fighters are thought to be behind a spate of deadly attacks this month targeting Iraqi troops.