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US Trying to Determine if Key IS Leader Killed in Airstrike


FILE - Tarkhan Batirashvili, also known as Omar the Chechen, is one of the most senior Islamic State military commanders and a former sergeant in the Georgian army. The U.S. is trying to find out whether he was killed last week in an airstrike in Syria.

FILE - Tarkhan Batirashvili, also known as Omar the Chechen, is one of the most senior Islamic State military commanders and a former sergeant in the Georgian army. The U.S. is trying to find out whether he was killed last week in an airstrike in Syria.

The United States is trying to determine if an airstrike last week in Syria killed a top Islamic State leader.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said a coalition strike Friday near the town of al-Shaddadi targeted Tarkhan Batirashvili, also known as Abu Omar al-Shishani, or "Omar the Chechen."

"At the time of this strike, Batirashvili had been sent to al Shaddadi to bolster ISIL [IS] fighters following a series of strategic defeats by local forces we are supporting, cutting off ISIL operations near the Syria-Iraq border," Cook said.

Earlier in the day, an official told VOA on the condition of anonymity that the Islamic State commander was believed to be in the area to assess the strength of his forces and "try to boost morale" after major territory gain by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

As many as a dozen Islamic State fighters were killed in the strike, according to the official.

CNN was the first to report the airstrike.

The U.S. had a $5 million reward on the IS leader's head and said he "coordinated closely" with Islamic State's financial section.

This follows reports last week of an airstrike near Aleppo that killed IS official Amr al Absi, also known as Abu al Athir.

U.S. officials tell VOA they have not been able to confirm al-Absi's death and say that if he was killed in an airstrike, it wasn't one carried out by the United States.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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