In a “successful mission,” US special operations soldiers launched a large-scale counterterrorism raid in northern Syria overnight Thursday, according to the Pentagon. The attack, according to residents and activists, resulted in several casualties, including civilians.
In a short statement, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby declared the mission a success. “There were no victims in the United States.” More details will be released when they become available.”
Several locals in the hamlet of Atmeh, in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib region near the Turkish border, told The Associated Press they saw body parts spread near the house ransacked. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation for the operation, which they said included helicopters, explosions, and machine gun fire.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in the United Kingdom, reported nine people were killed in the hit, including two children and a mother. A citizen journalist who attended the scene, Ahmad Rahhal, said he saw 12 bodies. Others were said to be buried beneath the rubble.
The Pentagon did not say who was targeted in the attack or whether any adversaries or civilians were killed or injured on the ground. Several prominent al-Qaida operatives and other extremist organizations call Idlib home.
Residents and activists in the region recounted a large-scale ground assault in which US Marines used loudspeakers to order women and children to flee. They called the raid the largest since the assassination of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019.
At least one significant explosion occurred. According to a US official, one of the raid’s helicopters had a technical fault and had to be blown up on the ground. The US official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to disclose the military operation’s specifics.
According to the Observatory, helicopters carrying forces from the US-led coalition landed in the neighborhood and assaulted a home. The military allegedly battled with fighters on the ground, according to the report. An activist in Idlib, Taher al-Omar, said he saw fights between the rebels and the US troops.
Tweets from the region described helicopters firing around the building near Atmeh, drawing attention to the military action on social media. Multiple drones were also circling the city of Sarmada and the town of Salwah, just north of the raid’s location, according to flight-tracking data.
The covert operation occurred as the Islamic State appeared to be trying to make a return after its attempt to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq in 2019 collapsed after three years of battle. The organization has conducted a number of operations in the region in recent weeks and months, including a 10-day assault late last month to take a jail in northeastern Syria.
The Gweiran jail, also known as al-Sinaa prison, is now entirely in the hands of a US-backed Kurdish-led army, according to a statement released Monday. More than 120 Syrian Democratic Forces soldiers and prison guards were killed in the attempt to foil the IS operation, according to the Syrian Democratic Forces. At least 3,000 Islamic State inmates are housed in the facility.
The attempted jail break was the extremist group’s largest military effort since it was crushed and its fighters fled to safe havens in 2019. To assist the Kurdish troops, the US-led coalition launched out airstrikes and sent American Marines in Bradley Fighting Vehicles to the jail area.
Nowruz Ahmad, a senior SDF official, said the prison assault was part of a larger plot that IS had been planning for a long time, which included attacks on other neighborhoods in Hassakeh, Shaddada, and areas of Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria, as well as the al-Hol camp in the south, which houses thousands of IS members’ families.
“They (IS) planned to launch a big attack on the region, sow terror, impose gloom on the people of the region, and resurrect the terrorist organization,” Ahmad explained.
The US-led coalition has struck high-profile terrorists on many times in recent years, ostensibly to disrupt the Khorasan group, a covert cell that is preparing foreign assaults, according to US officials. In Syria earlier this year, a US attack killed al-second Qaida’s in command, former bin Laden associate Abu al-Kheir al-Masri.