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US hits Islamic State in Syria as jihadists press attacks

US special forces have killed a man identified as a senior Islamic State leader during a raid into Syria, officials said, as the jihadists battled for the Iraqi city of Ramadi and ancient Palmyra in Syria.

The White House said President Barack Obama ordered the raid that killed the Islamic State figure identified as Abu Sayyaf, who helped direct the group's oil, gas and financial operations. US officials said his wife was captured in the raid.

It is the first declared special forces operation by US forces in Syria since their failed attempt to rescue a number of American hostages held by Islamic State last summer.

The United States is leading a coalition in a military campaign to roll back the jihadist group whose self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq has reshaped the region.

In Ramadi, US-led air strikes forced Islamic State to withdraw from a government building over which the group's black flag had flown on Friday, the major and a tribal leader said.

Were it to fall, Ramadi would be the first major city to be won by Islamic State since an effort by Iraqi security forces and paramilitary groups to push it back began last year

In Syria, the group fought Syrian government forces for control of the ancient city of Palmyra, an attack that has raised fears its UNESCO World Heritage site could meet the same fate as monuments destroyed by Islamic State in Iraq.

While Washington is working closely with Iraq in the fight against Islamic State, it has shunned the idea of cooperating with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who it says has lost legitimacy to rule and must leave power.

The United States said it did not warn Assad in advance or coordinate with his officials over the special forces raid.

Conducted by US personnel based out of Iraq, the raid targeted area called al-Amr in eastern Syria, an Islamic State stronghold that bridges territory the group controls in Syria and Iraq.

"During the course of the operation, Abu Sayyaf was killed when he engaged US forces," White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said. The operation was conducted "with the full consent of Iraqi authorities".

There was no immediate comment from Damascus.

Assad said in February he had been informed about US-led air strikes against Islamic State in Syria via third parties including Iraq, with which his government has close ties.

A US official said about a dozen fighters were killed in the overnight raid, which appeared to mark a departure from the reliance on air strikes to hit Islamic State in Syria.

Syrian state TV initially credited the Syrian army with the raid, saying it had killed 40 Islamic State militants and the group's "oil minister", whom it identified by a different name.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based organisation that tracks the war using sources on the ground, said at least 19 Islamic State members were killed in an air strike in the area which it said was carried out by US forces. Twelve of those killed were non-Syrians, it said.

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Tags:  US  Obama  Islamic State  war  Syria  





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