The US Delta Special Operations raid that killed ISIS oil chief Abu Sayyaf Saturday, May 16, could not have taken place without prior US coordination with Damascus and Moscow, debkafile’s military sources report. The National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan announced after the raid: “The US government did not coordinate with the Syrian regime, nor did we advise them in advance of the operation.” But that statement did not preclude a possible US notice of the coming raid to Moscow, which then passed it on to Damascus.
The operation therefore fixed more than one new Middle East landmark: Not only did the US put its first boots on the ground in Syria, but the US, Russia and the Assad regime seem to be pulling together for the first time against the Islamic State – much in the same way as Washington is funneling its cooperation with Iran against ISIS through Baghdad.
Our military sources note that the area of operation – Al-Amar some 20 km southeast of Deir El-Zour in eastern Syria – is bristling with Syrian air defense units, while Russian air defense facilities cover the distance from there to Damascus. How likely is it that they all missed the helicopters which dropped US troops?
It is even more unlikely, given the details of the operation coming to light Sunday, May 17. It now appears that Abu Sayyaf was not the only target, but that 32 ISIS fighters were killed in the same compound including four more of its leaders – all them Moroccans. American sources identified one of them as the group’s military chief, Abo Omar al-Shishani.
The daring Delta raid can said to have failed in one important respect: None of the five high-value ISIS leaders was caught alive – or any of their 27 bodyguards. The main object of the mission was to catch five top Islamist State leaders to demonstrate America’s long arm against its enemies, as well drawing from them every scrap of intelligence under questioning.
Alternatively, they would have served as bargaining chips for saving the lives of any more Americans taken hostage by the Islamist terrorists.
The commanders of the operation can congratulate themselves on two feats: The entire raider force returned unscathed – was one; and, two, it captured a large cache of digital and other documentation which should offer up precious data on ISIS’s finances and its command hierarchy.
With the technology available today, Abu Sayyaf, aka Abu Muhammad al-Iraqi or Abd al-Ghani, could have been liquidated by pushing a button from a US drone base in Jordan, Iraq or an aircraft carrier on the Mediterranean, and saved risking US troops by dropping them deep inside an ISIS military compound. One or more drones armed with laser-guided bombs could have hovered overhead.
On the other hand, only a large group of elite combatants (estimated at 70-100), dropped on target by V-22 and Black Hawk copters, could have penetrated the offices and homes of the Islamic State’s financial chief and stripped his computers and other digital storage units of documents recording the movements of personnel and money.
To carry out its mission, the Delta force must have had back-up from hundreds of fighting men in the first and second circles of response, as well as medical, logistics, electronic warfare, intelligence and communications personnel and also air cover.
UAVs overhead would have fed the unit intelligence in real time.
The only way the elite US unit could have operated without fear of being cut down by massive ground-to-ground missile fire from Syrian forces close to the scene was if prior directives were handed down to the Syrian and Russian air defense units to hold their fire. Those batteries are equipped to identify any object taking to the sky in the Middle East. Without their cooperation in turning a blind eye to the unusual US military activity during a “working window” of a few hours, the helicopters carrying the raiders to target would have entered a missile death trap and suffered great loss of life.
It is more than likely that this arrangement was secretly set up when US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on May 12. It may be assumed that the Russian leader quietly approved the operation and acceded to Kerry’s request to give Damascus a heads-up.