US special troops chased down high-ranking terrorists in a rare aerial raid in northern Syria on Thursday, killing 13 persons in a “successful” operation, according to the Pentagon. The operation was believed to be the largest of its sort carried out by US soldiers in the jihadist-controlled Idlib province since the 2019 assault that killed Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The goals of the current operation in the Atme area, which lasted almost two hours according to neighbors and other sources, were not immediately clear.
According to names circulating on social media and among local people, the US raid was not directed at IS operatives but at members of the rival extremist group Al-Qaeda. The Pentagon did not specify the objective of the overnight attack, but said say further information will be revealed later.
“US Special Operations forces under the control of US Central Command conducted a counterterrorism mission this evening in northwest Syria,” said spokesman John Kirby in a statement. “The mission was completed successfully. There were no victims in the United States “He continued, without explaining.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 13 individuals were killed in the operation, which saw special US commandos attempt a risky helicopter landing near Atme.
“13 people at least were killed, among them four children and three women, during the operation,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. AFP journalists were allowed to visit a house on the outskirts of Atme that looked to be a primary target of US special troops. The two-story raw cinder block structure revealed the signs of a fierce struggle, with ripped window frames, scorched ceilings, and a partially collapsed roof.
Blood was smeared high on the walls and coated the floor, which was littered with foam mattresses and shards from busted doors in some of the rooms. In recent months, US special forces have conducted multiple operations against high-value Islamist targets in the Idlib region.
The territory, which is home to more than three million people and is ruled by jihadists, is the last stronghold to openly defy Bashar al-government. Assad’s The territory is largely managed by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group formed by former members of Al-Syrian Qaeda’s affiliate.
It has attempted in recent years to portray itself as a more moderate entity, focusing solely on Syrian issues and criticizing international terrorism.
HTS has conducted military sweep operations to eliminate more extremist jihadist organizations, such as Hurras al-Deen, which has stronger organic ties to Al-Qaeda. Atme is home to a massive camp for families displaced by the decade-long fighting, and experts have warned that terrorists are using it as a safe haven among civilians.
Syria’s government troops and their primary military ally, Russia, have carried out many attacks in the Idlib province against jihadist and rebel factions.
However, a ceasefire agreement reached over two years ago by Moscow and Ankara, the two primary foreign powers in the region, remains in effect.
Assad has always said that his goal is to retake Syria as a whole, including Idlib province, but the dimensions of the jihadist-run enclave have stayed virtually constant since early 2020.