Just days after the United States admitted killing civilians instead of terrorists in a drone strike in Afghanistan, the U.S. military launched a strike to kill a top terror official in Syria.
U.S. Central Command said Monday it carried out the airstrike near Idlib, targeting a leader with the al-Qaida terror group.
"Initial indications are that we struck the individual we were aiming for,” Central Command spokeswoman Lieutenant Josie Lynne Lenny said in a statement.
“There are no indications of civilian casualties as a result of the strike," she said.
Pentagon officials confirmed the strike but were unable to share additional details.
Jihadis posting on social media Monday said the strike killed two officials with the al-Qaida affiliate Hurras al-Din.
According to SITE Intelligence Group, the posts said the U.S. strike killed Abu Hamza al-Yemeni, a military commander, as well as a second official named Abu al-Bara’ al-Tunisi.
Analysts say the strike is the first confirmed U.S. strike against al-Qaida in Syria this year, but that U.S. pressure has been constant.
“The U.S. has an impressive track record of precision strikes targeting al-Qaida operatives in northwestern Syria, particularly since mid-2019, when members of al-Qaida's global leadership have been taken out by U.S. drones,” Charles Lister, with the Washington-based Middle East Institute, told VOA.
Lister said Hurras al-Din, already under assault by the rival Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which broke away from al-Qaida, has sent many of its leaders into hiding and is especially vulnerable.
“Periodic American drone strikes are rubbing salt in an already gaping al-Qaida wound in Syria — the country that only a few years ago seemed to be al-Qaida's source of greatest promise,” he said.
Monday’s airstrike in Syria is also the first announced by U.S. Central Command since an August 29 drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed 10 civilians, including an aid worker and seven children.
Military officials have called that strike a “tragic mistake,” explaining they hit the wrong target after tracking threats that the Islamic State terror group’s Afghan affiliate was planning to attack the international airport in Kabul using a vehicle matching the description of the one that was struck.
The Pentagon on Monday said that it was launching a review of the initial investigation into the Kabul drone strike.
“Part of that review will be to examine the investigation itself, the thoroughness of the investigation, study the degree to which any policies, procedures or targeting mechanisms may need to be altered going forward, if any, and of course to then take a look at what levels of accountability might be appropriate,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.
Despite describing the Kabul strike as a “serious mistake” and “a tragedy,” the White House on Monday defended the use of airstrikes for counterterrorism operations.
Over-the-horizon counterterrorism strikes can "absolutely" work, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, noting the strike carried out in Kabul was done in an effort to defend U.S. forces and citizens from an imminent threat.
With most counterterrorism strikes, "We typically expect to have more time to assess both the threat and the potential target," Psaki said.