Special Operations Raid Said to Kill Senior Terrorist Leader in Syria – The New York Times

The raid, which was first reported by Newsweek, came as the United States continued to withdraw hundreds of troops from northern Syria who had been conducting counterterrorism missions, while sending in several hundred other forces to guard eastern oil fields in Syria against the Islamic State.

Some analysts expressed skepticism that Mr. Baghdadi would be hiding in Idlib, in northwest Syria. He was always thought to be hiding in the borderlands between Iraq and Syria in the heart of the Islamic State’s former caliphate, or religious state.

The dominant group in Idlib is a jihadist organization called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, which was linked to Al Qaeda. They and ISIS are rivals so it would be surprising if Mr. Baghdadi were hiding in Idlib. But hundreds of ISIS fighters fleeing Iraq and northeastern Syria are believed to be hiding in the northwest, some even joining their former Qaeda rivals, so analysts said it is possible Mr. Baghdadi found refuge with them.

The Islamic State has not had a significant presence in Idlib for many years since they were chased out of northwest Syria by angry rebels.

An American official said on Saturday night that senior military officials had decided that, with American forces largely withdrawing from Syria, commandos should take action quickly to try to kill or capture senior terrorists in northwest Syria before the United States lost that ability.

Mr. Baghdadi, the cunning and enigmatic black-clad leader of the Islamic State, transformed a flagging insurgency into a global terrorist network that drew tens of thousands of recruits from 100 countries.

He has been the target of a yearslong, international manhunt that consumed the intelligence services of at least four different countries, and is believed to hew to extreme security measures, even when meeting with his most-trusted associates. He has been incorrectly reported killed or wounded multiple times.

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