U.S. special operations troops struck deep in Islamic State territory in Syria in a raid targeting the terrorist organization’s leadership, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, described the raid conducted by the Joint Special Operations Command-controlled Expeditionary Targeting Force as “successful,” but he declined to provide specific information about the mission near Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria. “It was focused on [Islamic State group] leadership,” Davis told reporters Monday at the Pentagon. “We don’t provide specific details on these types of operations.”
Davis said the mission was focused on gathering intelligence that could be used to inform future operations against the Islamic State group, such as the continuing assault on Mosul, the militants’ last urban stronghold in Iraq, and the future attack on Raqqa, its de facto capital in Syria. No Americans were killed or injured during the operation, he said. Some Islamic State group fighters were killed.
The raid took place near a remote village along the Euphrates River, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog organization, which reported 25 Islamic State group militants were killed. Davis said the estimate was “grossly exaggerated,” but he did not provide a number of enemy casualties in the raid. Additionally, Davis denied local Syrian news reports that claimed American commandos had arrested several Islamic State fighters in the raid and freed hostages.
The special operators were able to gather useful intelligence from the raid, Davis said. “The goal of the Expeditionary Targeting Force … is to be able to provide an additive capability to [the anti-Islamic State group coalition] to not just kill people with airstrikes and hit targets with airstrikes, but to have a force on the ground – a special operations force – to use to gain intelligence,” Davis said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the formation of the Expeditionary Targeting Force in December 2015. He described the unit as a group of about 200 Iraq-based commandos tasked with conducting raids, freeing hostages, gathering intelligence and capturing Islamic State leaders. It was formed after a top Islamic State group leader’s wife, Umm Sayyaf, was captured during a special operations raid in Syria in May 2015 that killed her husband, Abu Sayyaf. U.S. commandos were able to gather a cache of intelligence during the raid and Umm Sayyaf provided the coalition valuable information about Islamic State group’s operations and planning, U.S. officials said.
The ETF’s operations are rarely publicized. Davis said Monday that the unit routinely conducts raids to gather intelligence or target top terrorist leaders in Iraq and Syria. “We’ve done them before and we’ll do them again,” he said. “The U.S. and the entire anti-[Islamic State group] coalition will continue to pursue [Islamic State] leaders wherever they are, to ensure the stability of the region and the safety of our homelands.”
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