U.S. ground forces in Syria — the first in a series of such missions?

The New York Times reports: American Special Operations forces mounted a rare raid into eastern Syria early Saturday, killing a leader of the Islamic State and about a dozen militant fighters, as well as capturing his wife and freeing an 18-year-old Yazidi woman whom Pentagon officials said had been held as a slave.

In the first successful raid by American ground troops since the military campaign against the Islamic State began last year, two dozen Delta Force commandos entered Syria aboard Black Hawk helicopters and V-22 Ospreys and killed the leader, a man known as Abu Sayyaf. One American military official described him as the Islamic State’s “emir of oil and gas.”

Even so, Abu Sayyaf is a midlevel leader in the organization — one terrorism analyst compared him to Al Capone’s accountant — and likely is replaceable in fairly short order. And the operation, while successful, comes as the Islamic State has been advancing in the Iraqi city of Ramadi, demonstrating that the fight against the Sunni militant group in both Iraq and Syria remains very fluid.

Yet the Pentagon’s description of a nighttime raid that found its intended target deep inside Syria without any American troops being wounded or killed illustrates not only the effectiveness of the Delta Force, but of improving American intelligence on shadowy Islamic State leaders. [Continue reading…]

Foreign Policy adds: the fact that the White House gave the green light for an operation into Syria, combined with reports that the Delta operators removed a substantial trove of intelligence material from the site, might indicate that the raid could be the first in a series of such missions.

Delta has had a task force in Iraqi Kurdistan since at least last year with a mission of trying to find Islamic State leaders to kill or capture. During the war against the Islamic State’s predecessor organization, al Qaeda in Iraq, Delta and the other components of the military’s Joint Special Operations Command developed a system called “F3EAD” — for Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze, Disseminate — in which strike forces would raid objectives such as militant safe houses not only to kill or capture the militants but to gain as much material of intelligence value as possible. By sucking information out of hard drives and cell phones, as well as quickly interrogating anyone taken prisoner, Delta and other JSOC forces were able to launch several missions a night, each based on intelligence gained in the previous raid. That dynamic could repeat itself here. [Continue reading…]

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