A US military operation killed a senior ISIS leader and 10 members of the terror group in northern Somalia on Wednesday, two senior Biden administration officials said on Thursday.
“From a mountainous cave complex in northern Somalia, Bilal al-Sudani is assessed to have supported ISIS’ expansion and activities across Africa and beyond the continent,” the first senior administration official said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed that al-Sudani had been killed in a statement later on Thursday.
“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. 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 said.
“No civilians were harmed as a result of this operation. We are grateful to our extraordinary service members as well as our intelligence community and other interagency partners for their support to this successful counterterrorism operation,” Austin added.
US forces, according to the official, were prepared to capture al-Sudani but the “hostile force’s response” ultimately resulted in his death.
No US troops or civilians were killed, although one service member was injured during the operation after being bitten by an American military dog.The second official said that the US notified two counterterrorism partners, including the Somali government.
It’s unusual for the US to carry out an operation against ISIS in Somalia, where military operations have typically focused on al-Shabaab fighters, the dominant terror group in Somalia. The strike comes after US forces killed two top ISIS leaders in an airstrike in Syria near the end of last year.
The operation represents the continuation of the Biden administration’s strategy to counter terrorist threats through “over-the-horizon” operations like this, a shift in strategy the president made clear following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Al-Sudani was sanctioned by the US treasury in 2012 for helping foreign fighters travel to an al-Shabaab training camp and facilitating financing, according to the first official.
The operation, according to the first official, is expected to provide “valuable information” for the US intelligence community, although they declined to go into specifics.
The operation was announced by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) on Thursday, which said only that the US military “conducted a successful counterterrorism operation in Somalia” and that “no civilians were injured or killed.” The second senior administration official said on Thursday that senior members of President Joe Biden’s national security team were first briefed on the intelligence that led to this operation a “number of months ago.” Biden authorized the operation earlier this week.
The first official declined to provide details on the service members who were involved in the operation but emphasized their “exceptional preparation” for the mission.