WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2016 —
As part of ongoing efforts to disrupt terrorist networks, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook today confirmed that U.S. forces conducted a precision airstrike near Sarmada in northwest Syria Nov. 18 that killed Abu Ayyub al-Masri, a senior al-Qaida leader in Syria.
Al-Masri was an Egyptian who joined al-Qaida in Afghanistan and later moved to its Syrian affiliate, Cook said during a briefing with Pentagon reporters.
“He had ties to terrorist groups operating throughout Southwest Asia, including groups responsible for attacking U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and those plotting to attack the West,” he added, noting that al-Masri’s removal from the battlefield is another blow to al-Qaida in Syria.
The successful airstrike “demonstrates continued U.S. determination to target al-Qaida leaders wherever they pose a threat to the U.S., our allies and interests,” Cook said.
Carter Call with Barzani
This morning, Cook said, Defense Secretary Ash Carter spoke by phone with Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani.
“They had a very productive call focused on the ongoing fight against [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant],” the press secretary said, and Carter thanked Barzani for the courage of Kurdish fighters and for close KRG cooperation with the central government in Baghdad and the coalition in planning and executing operations to free Mosul.
Barzani thanked Carter for the coalition's continued support to Peshmerga forces, Cook added, and the two leaders pledged to remain in close coordination as the Iraqi-led counter-ISIL campaign progresses in Iraq.
Progress in Iraq, Syria
In Iraq, Cook said, Iraqi forces continue to clear areas in and around Mosul despite strong ISIL opposition.
“The [Iraqis] continue to make progress while exercising commendable care to avoid civilian casualties. They've been dealing among other things with vehicle-borne [homemade bombs] and the use of human shields by ISIL,” he told reporters.
In the last 24 hours the coalition conducted nine strikes, delivering 72 munitions to support operations in and around Mosul.
“This remains a tough urban campaign,” Cook said, “though it will end with Mosul free of ISIL's rule.”
In Syria, Syrian Democratic Forces continue to seize and clear territory north of Raqqa in preparation for that city's isolation and eventual liberation, he said.
“Those SDF forces are now 20 kilometers from Raqqa. The SDF has essentially closed a pocket of ISIL forces now encircled by their advance and they are clearing that pocket in preparation for future operations,” Cook said.
In the last 24 hours, the coalition has conducted 11 strikes delivering 35 munitions in support of the SDF's drive on Raqqa, he said.
“We continue to see indications that the simultaneous pressure on ISIL in both Syria and Iraq combined with relentless strikes on ISIL leadership is complicating ISIL's ability to reinforce and to command and control its forces,” Cook said.
Thanksgiving for Troops
As Americans prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, Cook said, “Around the world our troops and DoD civilians are working to protect the nation. And as you might expect, the Department of Defense is working to provide as joyous a holiday as possible for those personnel who can't be home with their families.”
This week, for deployed service members in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan and Kuwait, the Defense Logistics Agency will provide 34,760 pounds of turkey, 32,550 pounds of beef, 21,450 pounds of ham, 28,980 pounds of shrimp, 9,115 pounds of stuffing mix and 879 gallons of egg nog.
“We want to wish a happy Thanksgiving to our troops deployed around the world, as well as to those here at home and to their families,” Cook said.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter: @PellerinDoDNews)