(CNN) – U.S. Special Forces on Wednesday night carried out a “successful” counter-terrorism operation in northwestern Syria, killing ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, President Joseph Biden said Thursday morning.
This is the largest US attack in the country since the 2019 operation to assassinate ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Sources on the ground reported several deaths. According to the Syrian Civil Defense Group White Helmets, at least 13 people were killed in clashes during and after the attack, including six children and four women.
According to the Pentagon, there were no US casualties.
“Last night, under my guidance, US military forces in northwestern Syria successfully carried out counter-terrorism operations to protect the American people and our allies and make the world a safer place,” Biden said in a statement. “Thanks to the skill and bravery of our armed forces, we have removed ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi from the battlefield. All Americans have returned safely from the operation.”
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement late Wednesday that the operation was being carried out by the US Federal Command, which controls military operations in the Middle East.
Civilians were killed in the attack that killed the ISIS leader
The short Pentagon report does not specify the target for special operations or any signs of civilian casualties.
But numerous witnesses and rescuers targeted CNN, a house in the rebel settlement of Khartoum Idlib on the Syrian-Turkish border in Admay, just before midnight before the airstrikes by US forces.
In addition to the 13 dead, two others were injured and white helmets indicate that a building was “partially destroyed” after the raid.
Asked not to be identified for security reasons, a witness at Admey said machine gunfire flew over at least three helicopters and exploded minutes later. The region has a strong presence of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) forces, which were previously affiliated with Al Qaeda.
“From a distance I heard a person speaking Arabic with an Iraqi accent and asked the families to evacuate the area so they would be safe,” the witness said. “I saw machine guns firing from helicopters on the ground from a distance.”
The witness said two of the three helicopters he saw landed an hour after the fighting began. “At 3:20 a.m., the helicopters took off and I saw a light like fire in the distance,” the witness said.
The witness said he heard what appeared to be drone strikes and that HTS forces were preventing civilians from entering the area.
CNN contacted the Central Command.
The United States has repeatedly attacked al Qaeda and its affiliates in northwestern Syria, and the Pentagon acknowledges that at least one attack in recent months may have caused civilian casualties. But Wednesday’s move is the biggest since the killing of ISIS leader Baghdadi in a two – hour trial in northwestern Syria in October 2019.
Last September, the military launched an attack on a senior al Qaeda leader near Idlib, Syria, according to a Central Command report. One month later, the Central Command announced that the army had launched a drone strike on Abdul Qameed al-Mader, a senior al Qaeda leader.
Then, in December, the army attacked Musab Qinan, a senior leader of Huras al-Din, who had joined al Qaeda near Idlib. The Federal Command began an investigation into the possibility of civilian casualties from the attack, but the Pentagon was unable to provide an update at the time.
Meanwhile, ISIS has been active in various parts of Syria and Iraq. Last month, more than 100 ISIS militants attacked a prison in northeastern Syria in an attempt to free imprisoned members of a militant group. At least 200 prisoners and 30 members of the security forces were killed in the clashes that followed the imprisonment.