A man identified as a “senior al-Qaida leader” was killed in a drone strike in northwest Syria Friday, according to U.S. Central Command.
Abdul Hamid al-Matar was killed in an attack by an MQ-9 Reaper drone, said Army Maj. John Rigsbee, a CENTCOM spokesman, in a statement posted on the command’s website.
“We have no indications of civilian casualties as a result of the strike,” said Rigsbee.
The search for al-Matar had been in the works for “some time,” a DoD official told Military Times.
“Al-Qaeda continues to present a threat to America and our allies. Al-Qaeda uses Syria as a safe haven to rebuild, coordinate with external affiliates, and plan external operations,” said Rigsbee. “Al-Qaeda also uses Syria as a base for threats reaching into Syria, Iraq and beyond. The removal of this al-Qaeda senior leader will disrupt the terrorist organization’s ability to further plot and carry out global attacks threatening U.S. citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians.
“The U.S. will continue to target members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations who intend to harm the U.S. homeland,” he said.
The strike on al-Matar was the second attack on al-Qaida leadership in about a month.
On Sept. 20, CENTCOM said Salim Abu-Ahmad. also identified as a senior al-Qaida leader, was killed in an airstrike near Idlib, Syria.
“Salim Abu-Ahmad was responsible for planning, funding, and approving trans-regional al-Qaeda attacks,” Rigsbee, told Military Times last month. “There are no indications of civilian casualties as a result of the strike. This strike continues U.S. operations to degrade international terrorist networks and target terrorist leaders who seek to attack the U.S. homeland and its interests and allies abroad.”
That strike came hours before Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that an Air Force general officer would conduct an investigation into the errant Aug. 29 drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 people, including seven children. That strike mistakenly targeted an Afghan aid worker thought to be an ISIS-K operative. Lt. Gen. Sami Said, the Department of the Air Force inspector general, was later named to lead that investigation.
The killing of al-Matar comes two days after Al Tanf, a military outpost in southern Syria housing U.S. troops that was hit by a coordinated attack involving drones and rockets.
“All U.S. personnel have been accounted for, and we are not aware of any injuries to U.S. personnel at this time,” said Navy Capt. William Urban, CENTCOM’s spokesman, in a statement released Thursday.
There was no connection between that incident and the killing of al-Matar, a DoD official told Military Times.
U.S. and coalition troops are based at the al-Tanf garrison to train local Syrian opposition forces on patrols to counter Islamic State militants.
The base is also located on a road serving as a vital link for Iranian-backed forces from Tehran to all the way to southern Lebanon and Israel.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.