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Hard-to-Kill IS Commander Targeted by Pentagon July 10

FILE - Abu Omar al-Shishani, also known as "Omar the Chechen," stands next to Islamic State fighters as they declare elimination of border between Iraq and Syria.

A savvy and effective Islamic State terror group commander with a penchant for surviving U.S. airstrikes was the target again this past Sunday, according to the Pentagon.

Defense officials confirmed Thursday they targeted Abu Omar al-Shishani, also known as "Omar the Chechen," in a strike July 10 during a meeting of IS officials south of Mosul.

A spokesman said officials were still assessing the results of the airstrike.

Shishani was reported killed Wednesday by the Aamaq News Agency, an IS-linked organization. Aamaq said Shishani was killed in the town of Shirqat while trying to "halt the military campaign" against the self-declared caliphate's Iraqi capital of Mosul. IS had previously denied claims Shishani had been killed.

U.S. and coalition forces have targeted Shishani numerous times, including in an airstrike March 4 in al-Shaddadi, Syria, initially deemed to have been successful.

"The intelligence that we had at the time led us to believe we killed Shishani," Defense Department spokesman Matthew Allen told VOA, adding, "We recognized at the time that our intelligence picture was incomplete."

"When he reemerged, we took a strike against him," he said.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook described the intelligence that led to the strike as "very recent." He said 16 other IS leaders also were thought to have been present at the time of the July 10 strike.

Previous claims

"He's been reported dead nine times now, but this might be the one," said Patrick Skinner, a former intelligence officer now with the Soufan Group, a New York organization that provides strategic security intelligence services to governments and multinational organizations.

FILE - Iraqi government forces drive their armored vehicle, June 22, 2016, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Qayyarah, during their operation to take the city and make it a launchpad for Mosul.
FILE - Iraqi government forces drive their armored vehicle, June 22, 2016, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Qayyarah, during their operation to take the city and make it a launchpad for Mosul.

"Shirqat is key to Mosul and Shishani is a tactical commander," Skinner said. "It would make sense Shishani would be where the fighting was."

Shirqat is about 100 kilometers south of Mosul and is within about 35 kilometers of Qayyarah. Iraqi Security Forces, backed by U.S. air power, began advancing on the area late last month and just days ago managed to seize the key Qayyarah West airbase.

During a visit Monday to Baghdad, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he was sending an additional 560 troops to Iraq, in part to help turn the base into a logistics and air hub for the assault on Mosul.

Pentagon officials have described Shishani as IS's "minister of war," a battle-hardened commander with ties to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Shishani pledged allegiance to IS in mid-2013, bringing with him hundreds of Russian-speaking fighters. He rapidly rose to the rank of IS northern commander and gained a seat on the terror group's Shura council, responsible for helping to implement IS's religious doctrines.

Georgian national

The Syrian-based Georgian national previously served in an intelligence unit with the Georgian army, where he was trained in U.S. counterterrorism and counterinsurgency tactics.

Shishani also is credited as one of the driving forces behind the militant group's rapid gains in Iraq's Anbar province in 2014.

"It was tactically brilliant," said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that conducts research on global terrorism.

"[Shishani] didn't use that many men to capture territory," Gartenstein-Ross added. "He used a relatively light force to capture a significant amount of ground."

Defense officials have said removing Shishani from the battlefield would strike a blow to the group's ability to coordinate its defense of key cities, such as Mosul and the group's Syrian capital of Raqqa.

They said it also would damage the ability of IS to recruit, and possibly keep, foreign fighters from Chechnya and the Caucasus regions.

The U.S. State Department had announced a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to Shishani's arrest or death.

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