First US ground operation in Syria kills ISIS oil chief – as Islamists advance on three new fronts
America’s first ground operation in the five years of Syrian war was directed against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – ISIS. US sources report that Special Operations forces mounted a raid Saturday, May 16, on an ISIS house in the Deir a-Zour district of eastern Syria, and killed senior Islamist commander and oil and gas chief, Abu Sayyaf, when he resisted capture. His Iraqi wife, Umm Sayyaf, was taken to Iraq for interrogation by the US troops, all of whom returned safely.
Abu Sayyaf’s importance for the Islamist group cannot be overrated as the man in charge of its commandeered oil fields in Syria and Iraq. He also managed their overseas sales in a thriving black market, netting an estimated $5million a day for bankrolling the group’s wars.
Catching him alive was the preferred object of the raid. Under interrogation, he would have been a valuable source of information on the working of the group’s illicit oil and gas trade, how it was managed, the identities of its customers and routes of payment to the ISIS war chest.
debkafile’s military sources report that the US raid was staged from Jordan, not Iraq. In normal circumstances, the Jordanians don’t permit US ground or air operations to be staged directly from their territory. However, a joint 10-day US-Jordanian war game, Eager Lion, was in progress in the Hashemite Kingdom. Some 10,000 troops from various countries, including the US, were practicing special operations against ISIS. And so the US unit was ready to hand a short distance from a high-value target at Deir a-Zour.
debkafile adds that the operation came just two days after the Arab Gulf leaders’ summit convened by President Barack Obama ended at Camp David Thursday, May 14. The war on ISIS was a key item on their agenda.
Sources in Washington disclose that the order for the raid came directly from President Barack Obama on the advice of national security council heads in the White House. The troops landed in the middle of a hotbed of fighting between the Syrian army and ISIS. They were no doubt lifted in and out of the scene at speed by helicopter.
The Islamists are in full momentum on three Syrian fronts (as well as the same number in Iraq). The group has overrun Al-Sina’a, Ar-Rusafa and Al-Omal in this district, as well as seizing Saker Island in the middle of the Euphrates River north of Deir a-Zour, from which it is shelling the largest Syrian air base in eastern Syria.
Islamist fighters are also advancing on Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra (Tadmor). This is a 2,000-old desert site with precious remains of antiquity, but also home to Bashar Assad’s infamous Tadmor prison, notorious for torture and summary executions.
ISIS targets near this ancient town are the biggest Syrian air base in central Syria and more oil fields. Most of the Iranian and Russian air transports delivering military equipment for the Syrian army and Hizballah land at this base.
The Islamists are additionally targeting Syrian military positions in eastern Homs.