The coalition air campaign in Iraq has killed several senior ISIS officials, including its military chief, U.S. officials said Thursday, as Canada confirmed CF-18 warplanes had destroyed two of the terror group’s positions.
The Pentagon said “multiple senior and mid-level leaders” of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham had died in “targeted coalition air strikes” over the past month. The attacks took place in mid-November and early December, but the deaths were only recently confirmed.
Those killed were identified as Haji Mutazz, ISIS boss Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s deputy in Iraq, and Abd al Basit, the military emir for Iraq. Radwan Talib, the ISIS commander for the city of Mosul, was also killed.
The loss of “key leaders” has hurt the armed Islamist group’s ability to wage operations against the Iraqi security forces, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement that suggested ISIS leaders were being targeted.
“While we do not discuss the intelligence and targeting details of our operations, it is important to note that leadership, command and control nodes, facilities and equipment are always part of our targeting calculus,” he said.
The killings, first reported in The Wall Street Journal, were confirmed as Kurdish peshmerga militias broke a siege on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq, where minority Yazidis targeted by ISIS had been trapped. Kurdish officials called it the biggest ground offensive against the jihadists to date and the most successful.
Meanwhile, two CF-18s destroyed two ISIS fighting positions Wednesday “while taking part in coalition missions in support of Iraqi security forces ground operations conducted in an area northwest of Mosul,” the Canadian military said.
Hundreds of ISIS fighters, many of them foreign extremists, have died since the air campaign began in August. Military officials said the jihadists had been forced into hiding and had abandoned their heavy weapons, such as tanks and artillery, that are easy targets for warplanes.
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But ISIS remains a significant force in Syria and Iraq, with thousands of fighters who have been committing atrocities such as beheadings, mass executions and enslavement of women as they attempt to impose their version of Islamic law in the region.
In a report released Thursday by the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, Kyle Matthews argued the “international legal obligation to stop genocide and atrocities” had been neglected in the debate over confronting ISIS.
“The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) stipulates that if a country is unable or unwilling to protect its civilians from mass atrocities, then the international community must act swiftly to fill the protection void,” the CDFAI fellow wrote.
“The air attacks against ISIS are helping enforce the goals of R2P, as the international community works to do more to halt and interdict mass atrocity crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes. But has it come too late?”
Based in Kuwait, Canada’s six CF-18s have flown 130 sorties so far, while a CP-140 Aurora has conducted 40 reconnaissance missions and a CC-150 Polaris aerial refueler has carried out 36 sorties as part of the international coalition.
“Deliberate targets are predetermined before the mission commences, while dynamic targets can be defined as targets of opportunity,” the Canadian military said on the Operation Impact section of its website.
In addition to bombing runs, CF-18s had provided “top-cover” for a Royal Australian Air Force transport plane that dropped humanitarian aid to civilians on Mount Sinjar, it said.
“Meanwhile, the Aurora has assisted in the development of the intelligence picture by providing battle damage assessments following coalition engagements while also supporting the identification of possible [ISIS] targets,” it added.