U.S. military carries out strike on al-Qaeda leader in northern Syria, Pentagon says

The U.S. military carried out an airstrike on a senior al-Qaeda leader in Syria along the Turkish border in an operation that will disrupt the terrorist organization’s ability to plot attacks against American interests, defense officials said.

The Pentagon disclosed the strike in a statement Friday evening, saying it hit a leader named Abdul Hamid al-Matar. The strike was carried with an MQ-9 Reaper drone in the town of Suluk, north of Raqqa, Syria, said Army Maj. John Rigsbee, a U.S. military spokesman.

“Al-Qaeda continues to present a threat to America and our allies,” Rigsbee said. “Al-Qaeda uses Syria as a safe haven to rebuild, coordinate with external affiliates, and plan external operations.”

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Suluk was among the towns that Turkish forces advanced into in 2019, as Ankara attempted to push out Kurdish forces. U.S. troops had been in the region but withdrew at the order of President Donald Trump.

Rigsbee said that there was no initial indication that the strike caused any civilian casualties. In a brief phone interview, he said the strike had been planned for days and had nothing to do with an attack on U.S. troops on Wednesday in Tanf, where the U.S. military has maintained a garrison with about 200 troops along a highway that runs from Damascus to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. That attack was carried out with both indirect fire and unmanned aircraft, U.S. military officials said.

About 900 U.S. troops remain in Syria, including a number of Special Forces personnel, U.S. military officials have said. The majority are in northeast Syria, where Kurdish forces still have influence. U.S. officials have said the deployment is meant as a hedge against a resurgence of the Islamic State, which seized broad swaths of Syria and Iraq, prompting U.S. military intervention beginning in 2014.