Strikes in October against al-Qaida operatives in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan show the transregional nature of both the terrorist group and the approach to countering them, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said today.
Davis, briefing Pentagon reporters, said the United States and its allies continue to disrupt and defeat al-Qaida, and named four leaders targeted in October airstrikes, two of them confirmed dead.
The operatives include Haydar Kirkan, a long-serving and experienced facilitator and courier for al-Qaida in Syria, who died in an Oct. 17 airstrike in Idlib, Syria. Kirkan had ties to al-Qaida senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden, and was al-Qaida’s senior external terror attack planner in Syria, Turkey and Europe, Davis said.
On Oct. 21 a U.S. airstrike in Yemen’s Marib governorate killed five members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Among them was Abu Hadi al-Bayhani, an AQAP leader in Azzan, Yemen. Davis said al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has relied on leaders like Bayhani to build and maintain safe havens where the organization plans external operations.
Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook announced Oct. 26 that senior al-Qaida leaders Faruq al-Qatani and Bilal al-Utabi were targeted in Oct. 23 airstrikes in Afghanistan. Cook said then that the Defense Department was assessing the results of the airstrikes to confirm the terrorists’ deaths.
“Al-Qatani served as al-Qaida's emir for northeastern Afghanistan, assigned by the group's leadership to reestablish al-Qaida safe havens in Afghanistan. He was a senior planner for attacks against the United States and has a long history of directing deadly attacks against U.S. forces and our coalition allies,” Cook said in a press release.
Utabi also was involved in efforts to reestablish a safe haven in Afghanistan to use to threaten the West, Cook added, and in efforts to recruit and train foreign fighters.
“If these strikes are determined to be successful,” he said, “eliminating these core leaders of al-Qaida will disrupt efforts to plot against the United States and our allies and partners around the world, reduce the threat to our Afghan partners, and assist their efforts to deny al-Qaida safe haven in Afghanistan.
Today, Davis said that “al-Qaida doesn't recognize borders when they conspire to commit terrorist attacks against the West, and we will continue to work with our partners and allies to find and destroy their leaders, their fighters and their cells that are planning attacks externally.”
The Pentagon spokesman added that about a year ago more core al-Qaida fighters began arriving in Syria, even creating leadership council called a shura.
“They had a friendly, hospitable environment with al Nusra, which is their affiliate. They are people who are from outside Syria in many cases and who are focused on external operations,” Davis said.
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