US special forces kill suspected jihadists in north-west Syria raid

Pentagon calls airborne mission killing 13 people among them civilians in town of Atme ‘successful’

The scene after an overnight raid by US special operations forces against suspected jihadists in north-west Syria.

US special forces have hunted down high-ranking jihadists in an airborne raid in north-western Syria, killing 13 people in an operation the Pentagon described as “successful”.

The overnight operation was thought to be the biggest of its kind by US forces in the jihadist-controlled Idlib region since the 2019 raid that killed the Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The targets of the latest operation around the town of Atme, which residents and other sources said lasted about two hours, were not immediately clear. Names circulating on social media and among local residents suggested the US raid was not aimed at IS operatives but at members of the rival jihadist group al-Qaida.

The Pentagon did not reveal its target in the night-time raid but said more information would be provided later.

“US special operations forces under the control of US central command conducted a counter-terrorism mission this evening in north-west Syria,” said the spokesman John Kirby in a statement. “The mission was successful. There were no US casualties.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said seven civilians were among at least 13 people killed in the operation, in which elite US forces made a helicopter landing near Atme.

Syrian civil defence search the scene after an overnight raid by US special operations forces.

“A least 13 people were killed, among them four children and three women, during the operation,” the observatory’s chief, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.

AFP correspondents visited a home on the outskirts of Atme which appeared to be one of the US special forces’ main targets. The two-storey building of raw cinder blocks bore the scars of an intense battle, with torn window frames, charred ceilings and a partly collapsed roof.

In some of the rooms, blood was splattered on the walls and the floor, which was littered with foam mattresses and shards from smashed doors.

US special forces have carried out several operations against high-value jihadist targets in the Idlib area in recent months. The area, the last enclave to oppose the government of Bashar al-Assad, is home to more than 3 million people and is dominated by jihadists.

The region is mostly administered by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a group led by former members of al-Qaida’s franchise in Syria. In recent years, HTS has tried to cast itself as a more moderate player focused only on Syrian matters and condemning international terrorism.


HTS has carried out military sweep operations to weed out more radical jihadist groups, such as Hurras al-Din, which has more organic links with al-Qaida.

Atme is home to a huge camp for families displaced by the decade-old conflict and which experts have said is being used by jihadists as a place to hide among civilians.

On 23 October, the US military announced the killing of the senior al-Qaida leader Abdul Hamid al-Matar.

“Al-Qaida uses Syria as a safe haven to rebuild, coordinate with external affiliates, and plan external operations,” said central command’s spokesman, the US army’s Maj John Rigsbee in a statement at the time.

Syrian government forces and their main military backer Russia have carried out repeated attacks against jihadist and rebel groups in the Idlib region. However a ceasefire deal brokered almost two years ago by Moscow and Ankara, the two main foreign powers in the area, is still officially in place.

Assad has long insisted his goal was to recapture the whole of Syria, including Idlib province, but the contours of the jihadist-run enclave have remained largely unchanged since early 2020.

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