(WASHINGTON) — A risky military ground raid by U.S. special operations forces on a cave complex in northern Somalia on Wednesday night killed Bilal al-Sudani, a top leader and organizer with the Islamic State, U.S. officials said.
Al-Sudani was killed in a firefight along with 10 other fighters, according to the officials. There were no U.S. casualties in the raid, the officials said, emphasizing that there were also no civilian casualties — though officials later clarified that one of the U.S. service members had suffered a dog bite from a dog serving with U.S. forces.
The officials said President Joe Biden had authorized the raid earlier this week after conferring with his national security team. The U.S. forces that conducted the raid had rehearsed it many times at a mock-up facility that simulated the target area — a technique similar to what U.S. special operations forces did prior to the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan.
U.S. forces had prepared for the possibility of capturing al-Sudani, the officials said, “but the hostile forces response to the operation resulted in his death.” The officials refused to say whether the timing of the operation indicated that there was an imminent attack threat to the U.S.
“On January 25, on orders from the President, the U.S. military conducted an assault operation in northern Somalia that resulted in the death of a number of ISIS members, including Bilal-al-Sudani, an ISIS leader in Somalia and a key facilitator for ISIS’s global network,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
“Al-Sudani was responsible for fostering the growing presence of ISIS in Africa and for funding the group’s operations worldwide, including in Afghanistan,” Austin continued.
“This action leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure, and it reflects our steadfast commitment to protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism at home and abroad,” he said, praising “our extraordinary service members as well as our intelligence community and other interagency partners for their support to this successful counterterrorism operation.”
U.S. officials who briefed reporters on the raid described al-Sudani as a notorious extremist.
“[He] has a long history as a terrorist in Somalia. Before he joined ISIS, he was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2012 for his role in [the group] Shabaab, helping foreign fighters to travel to an Al Shabaab training camp, facilitating financing for foreign violent extremists in Somalia,” one of the two U.S. officials told reporters.
“This operation was the result of extraordinary coordination and careful planning across all elements of the U.S. government for many months,” one of the officials said, noting having first seen the first intelligence on al-Sudani’s whereabouts months ago.
“An intended capture operation was ultimately determined to be the best option to maximize the intelligence value of the operation and increase its precision in challenging terrain,” an official said. “At the same time, and based on extensive past experience, we recognize that even an intended capture operation might well result in al Sudani’s death — as ultimately it did.”
The officials indicated that targeting terrorists remained among the government’s top priorities.
“Through this operation and others, President Biden has made it very clear: We are committed to finding and eliminating terrorist threats to the United States and to the American people, wherever they are hiding, no matter how remote. That’s the context for understanding yesterday’s operation,” one of the officials said.
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