U.S. special forces kill senior ISIS official in operation in northern Somalia

U.S. special operations forces have killed a senior ISIS official and 10 other extremist operatives in remote northern Somalia, the Biden administration announced Thursday.

Deadly operation was authorized by U.S. President Joe Biden

U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin is seen speaking in Washington on Thursday.
U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, seen speaking at the Pentagon on Thursday, said in a statement that the special forces operation in Somalia that killed a senior ISIS official 'leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure.' (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

U.S. special operations forces have killed a senior ISIS group official and 10 other extremist operatives in remote northern Somalia, the Biden administration announced Thursday.

The operation carried out on Wednesday targeted Bilal al-Sudani, a key financial facilitator for ISIS, in a mountainous cave complex.

"This action leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure, and it reflects our steadfast commitment to protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism at home and abroad," U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

U.S. President Joe Biden was briefed last week about the proposed mission, which came together after months of planning. He gave final approval to carry out the operation this week following the recommendation of Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army, Gen. Mark Milley, according to two senior Biden administration officials who briefed reporters on the operation on the condition of anonymity.

Al-Sudani, who has been on the radar of U.S. intelligence officials for years, played a key role in helping to fund ISIS operations in Africa as well as the ISIS-K branch operating in Afghanistan, Austin said.

The U.S. Treasury Department alleged last year that al-Sudani had worked closely with another alleged ISIS operative, who had recruited young men in South Africa and sent them to a weapons training camp.

That operative, who controlled two mosques in South Africa, used his position to extort money from members of the mosques. Al-Sudani considered him a trusted supporter who could help ISIS supporters in South Africa become better organized and recruit new members, according to Treasury.

Capture not 'feasible'

No civilians were injured or killed in the operation, Pentagon officials said. One American involved in the operation was bitten by a military dog, but was not seriously injured, according to an administration official.

U.S. officials provided scant details about how the operation was carried out or the circumstances surrounding al-Sudani's killing. One official said that U.S. forces had intended to capture al-Sudani but that did not prove to be "feasible" as the operation was carried out.

The operation comes days after Africa Command said it had conducted a collective self-defence strike northeast of Mogadishu, the capital, near Galcad. In that incident, Somalia National Army forces were engaged in heavy fighting following an extended and intense attack by more than 100 al-Shabaab fighters.

The U.S. estimated approximately 30 al-Shabaab fighters were killed in that operation.

The offensive by Somalian forces against al-Shabaab has been described as the most significant in more than a decade.

Al-Shabaab holds a much larger footprint in Somalia than ISIS.