The raid took place Sunday near a small town along the Euphrates River valley to the north of the city of Deir al-Zour, deep in the heart of Islamic State territory, according to the officials and Syrian activist groups.
The troops, who landed on helicopters, spent about 90 minutes in the area, then left carrying Islamic State captives and bodies, according to witnesses quoted by the website Deir al-Zour 24, which monitors Islamic State activity in that province.
A U.S. official said U.S. forces intercepted a vehicle thought to be carrying senior Islamic State members, but declined to say whether the militants had been captured or killed. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an operation that the Pentagon has not yet publicly announced, said there were no American casualties.
The raid appeared to be an operation by the Expeditionary Task Force, a team of Special Operations forces based in Iraq that is charged with hunting down Islamic State leaders.
Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, confirmed that the raid had taken place but declined to provide details or say whether any leaders had been seized.
“The Coalition can confirm a U.S. operation in the vicinity of Deir al-Zour on Jan. 8. The U.S. and the entire counter-ISIL Coalition will continue to pursue ISIL leaders wherever they are to ensure the security and stability of the region and our homelands,” he said in an email. ISIL is another name for the Islamic State.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 25 Islamic State members were killed in the operation. Another activist group, Sound and Picture, said two Islamic State prisoners were freed, but the details could not be independently confirmed.
The U.S.-led coalition has in recent months targeted and killed a string of senior Islamic State officials with drone strikes, but ground raids aimed at capturing leaders are rare. The most successful capture was that of Abu Sayaf, a top financier, in May 2015, also in the province of Deir al-Zour. In July 2014, Special Operations forces landed near the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa to rescue Western hostages, but they did not find any.
A U.S. soldier died in another raid in the Iraqi town of Hawija in October 2015 that freed about 70 Iraqi captives but did not find Kurdish peshmerga hostages thought to be there. U.S. officials said five Islamic State militants were captured and at least 10 killed in that raid.
The highest-ranking leader killed was Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the Islamic State’s spokesman and second in command to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Adnani was hit by a drone strike in August after U.S. reconnaissance planes tracked him for months in a rural area of northern Syria.
There has been no word on the whereabouts of Baghdadi, who has eluded the U.S. forces hunting for him. Pentagon officials said two weeks ago that they think he is still alive.
|© Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as U.S. Special Operations ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa on May 25.|
US-led raid on IS leaders in Syria 'successful': Pentagon
Washington (AFP) - US special operations troops carried out a "successful" raid in Syria against leaders of the Islamic State group in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.
The operation was "focused on ISIL leadership" and was conducted by a US special operations unit tasked with tracking down top jihadist operatives, Navy Captain Jeff Davis said.
Davis said, however, that reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent monitor, that 25 jihadists had died in the raid were "grossly exaggerated."
He said the raids were carried out by the "Expeditionary Targeting Force" (ETF), an elite unit deployed to Iraq.
This kind of raid is aimed at eliminating jihadists as well as intelligence-gathering to conduct further operations, Davis said.
According to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed coalition of Arab and Kurdish forces, at least four helicopters, including Apache attack helicopters, were used in the operation.
A commander of the SDF said the attack targeted vehicles driven by senior IS fighters coming from Raqa, killing several and capturing other. Davis denied that prisoners were taken, saying there was "no detention from this operation."
A Syrian army official said military radars had detected the operation but could not identify the nationality of the aircraft.
The United States has been leading a campaign against IS in Syria since September 2014.
Deir Ezzor is Syria's second biggest province after Homs. Since early 2015, jihadists have besieged the provincial capital, also called Deir Ezzor, home to some 200,000 people.
According to the Observatory, the raids killed 14 IS members traveling on a bus and 11 in a firefight when a water facility was targeted.
US special forces carry out secret ground raid against Isil in Syria, 'killing at least 25 jihadists'
S special forces carried out a secret raid in eastern Syria on Sunday, killing a number of fighters from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
Commandos parachuted down from four helicopters around 2.30pm on Sunday, according to local activists.
They set up roadblocks around the town of al-Kubar, between the Isil-held cities of Deir Ezzor and the group’s de facto capital Raqqa.
At least 25 jihadists were killed in the two-hour operation, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
It is not yet clear what their target was, but some local activists suggested the raid may have been a hostage rescue attempt.
“Our information is that it was to rescue hostages, and that one of the Daesh (Isil) leaders went without force, so we believe that the arrests of members by coalition came by accident," an activist with the anti-Isil Sound and Picture organisation told The Telegraph.
“There is an important secret prison in the area. And we think there were westerners in it, but we don't have names because Isil put the area under siege after the landing."
US Central Command confirmed that "an operation was conducted in that area", but declined to give further details.
The US-led coalition has carried out only a handful of such raids in Syria and Iraq since joining the war against Isil.
In July 2014 Delta Force commandos attempted a rescue of American hostages held by Isil in a prison in Raqqa. However, they arrived too late and American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and aid worker Kayla Mueller had been moved days earlier.
In March of last year special forces killed Isil’s “oil minister” Abu Sayyaf. They had intended to take the leader alive, but he was killed after attempting to fight back.
They did however manage to recover laptops and mobile phones which could provide an insight into Isil's oil-smuggling operations, which bring in vast wealth for the terrorist organisation.