US says senior al Qaeda leader killed in Syria

The United States has announced a senior al Qaeda leader was killed in an air raid in the Syrian province of Raqqa. Washington claims its military operations against al Qaeda in Syria have increased in the recent months. Damascus wants all US troops out of Syria.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Friday that another US airstrike had killed a senior al Qaeda commander in Suluk, in Syria’s northern Raqqa Governorate.

“A US airstrike today in northwest Syria killed senior al Qaeda leader Abdul Hamid al Matar. We have no indications of civilian casualties as a result of the strike, which was conducted using an MQ-9 aircraft,” CENTCOM spokesperson Maj. John Rigsbee stated in a Friday release, referring to the MQ-9 Reaper combat drone.

Earlier on Friday, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki asserted the US’ “right to respond” to an attack against the US garrison at at-Tanf in southeastern Syria on Wednesday. However, CENTCOM said that attack, which involved rockets and kamikaze drones, was believed to have been carried out by “Iran-backed militias”, an American term for militant groups that oppose the US presence in Iraq and Syria. That makes it unlikely the strike was the response to which Psaki referred.

However, the US has carried out several other strikes against al Qaeda-aligned groups in Syria in recent weeks, following statements by President Joe Biden in August that outlined the next phase of the US war on terror, a conflict that has increasingly taken a back seat as the US’s grand strategy shifts to a great power competition with Russia and China.

“Today a terrorist threat has metastasized well beyond Afghanistan: al Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQQP), al Nusra in Syria, Daesh attempting to create a caliphate in Syria and Iraq and establishing affiliates in multiple countries in Africa and Asia,” Biden noted in a televised speech two days after the US-backed Afghan government collapsed before a Taliban blitzkrieg.

“These threats warrant our attention and our resources. We conduct effective counterterrorism missions against terrorist groups in multiple countries where we don’t have permanent military presence. If necessary, we’ll do the same in Afghanistan,” he added.

“We’ve developed counterterrorism over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the direct threats to the United States in the region, and act quickly and decisively if needed,” he continued.

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