U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in a press release today afternoon, said the U.S.-led coalition was not responsible for the airstrike which killed the ISIS second-in-command Abu Alaa al-Afri. The Iraqi Defense Ministry had released a statement today morning claiming that al-Afri and other senior members of ISIS had been killed in a U.S.-led international coalition airstrike. A senior Iraqi security official told CNN that the strike took place on Tuesday.
Since the news of his death came out, the Pentagon had been claiming to not have any news about the airstrike. CENTCOM’s statement said that they were aware of the reports, but they did not strike the mosque and could not corroborate the claims made by the Iraqi government.
The U.S. military has always been sensitive about targeting religious sites. They further added that they have many mitigation measures in place within the targeting process during an ongoing military operation. They insure that the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties remains minimum and thus, they did not strike a mosque.
Al-Afri was the deputy leader of ISIS after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and had been meeting senior members of ISIS at a mosque in Tal Afar, in the northwestern part of Iraq when it was bombed. If proven true, al-Afri’s death might create a power vacuum in the ISIS as Baghdadi has been previously reported to be seriously wounded and unable to command the group. Al-Afri had been taking over the command slowly. None of these reports have been confirmed by U.S. military officials.
CENTCOM said that it had conducted airstrikes in the region and had destroyed an “ISIL fighting position and an ISIL heavy machine gun,” as part of Operation Inherent Resolve from 8am on May 12 to 8am May 13. The U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United Kingdom, Jordan, Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, France, Belgium and Australia.
The Iraqi government has been known to claim the deaths of senior leaders only for them to resurface again. ISIS meanwhile, has not released an official statement regarding either Baghdadi or al-Afri.
By Anugya Chitransh
The Long War Journal
United States Central Command
Photo by Senior Airman Armando A. Schwier-Morales for the U.S. Air Force – Flickr