The Pentagon has once again hunted down a prominent terrorist in an area controlled by Turkey. According to US Central Command, Mahir Agal, who was allegedly working to develop Islamic State (IS) networks beyond Iraq and Syria, has been killed in a US airstrike near the Turkish-Syrian border. In the same blow one of his right hands was seriously injured.
“Extensive planning went into this operation to ensure its successful execution. An initial review indicates that there were no civilian casualties,” Central Command said in a statement released on Tuesday. For its part, the Syrian Civil Defense, a humanitarian organization that operates on the ground, has explained that an unidentified drone has hit a motorcycle in the town of Khaltan, northwest of Aleppo province and near Yandaris.
Not far from where this latest killing took place, Abu Ibrahim Hashimi Quraishi, former leader of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, met his end a few months ago. Abu Ibrahim killed him and part of his family during a US Special Forces raid on his hideout. Mahir Agal had a lower rank. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, he had been a high command during the time that the IS had Raqqa as the capital of its pseudo-caliphate.
In 2020, after Turkey expelled the Kurdish-Syrian forces from the Afrin region, the terrorist moved to that area, where he found the protection of other sympathetic Islamist militias. Finally, he took charge of one of them, Jaish al Sharqiya. The US followed closely in its footsteps. Last month, another United States drone attack killed Abu Hamza el Yemeni, head of Hurras al Din, another of the extremist militias that have become strong in opposition areas of Syria.
The Islamic State is not what it was in that country. After Kurdish forces and an international coalition led by the US reduced their territorial holdings in Syria and Iraq to nothing in 2019, the organization has lost almost all its power. But it’s still deadly. Hiding in the vast desert areas of eastern Syria and western Iraq, a few members continue to launch sporadic attacks. The biggest of them was last February, when they raided a prison that housed other fighters.
Far from the Middle East, however, the IS flag continues to fly. In Afghanistan, the Islamic State in Khorasan, the local branch, has become the main threat to the Taliban. His ideological affinity matters little. Members of the Afghan IS have become strong in the east of the country and have caused periodic massacres since the fundamentalists came to power a year ago. The African Sahel is another of the regions where IS continues to try to retain territory.
However, in its statement on Tuesday, the Central Command has stressed that the IS and other violent extremist organizations “continue to represent a threat to the United States and its allies.” Al Qaeda, he explained, has given shelter to IS members in its controlled areas of northern Syria. The statement makes no mention of neighboring Turkey. At the end of last May, a Turkish media outlet claimed that Ankara had arrested the last IS leader in Istanbul. Turkey did not confirm the news.
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