May 18, 2015 | Quote

Analysts Say Build on Momentum of Syria Raid To Keep ISIS Off Balance

Pentagon officials have been understandably keen to talk-up Friday night’s Delta Force strike deep into the terrain of the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS. With no U.S. casualties among the two dozen commandos who landed in eastern Syria and at least one high-value militant dead—and a likely 40 other extremists dead—the mission has been hailed as a success, and not only by Defense aides.

But while analysts and military veterans see the raid as a successful tactical operation, questions remain about whether higher-value targets may have slipped away earlier. Who they are would provide answers to exactly what American commanders wanted to get from the raid. Whether the missed targets were more involved in ISIS’s finances or military leaders would provide some insight into the ever-evolving U.S. strategy, some analysts say.

Despite some descriptions of veteran jihadist Abu Sayyaf as ISIS’s “CFO” responsible for the oil smuggling that helps finance the group, analysts and political activists say he was a mid-level manager overseeing oil infrastructure as opposed to masterminding clandestine sales and deliveries. In the lists of the ISIS leadership drawn up by knowledgeable analysts and reporters, he never figured prominently.

Abu Sayyaf’s wife, Umm Sayyaf (a nom de guerre that means “Mother of Sayyaf”) in Arabic, was also captured, while an enslaved Yazidi woman was rescued by Delta. ‎Both are being interrogated in Iraq by the FBI’s High-Value Detainee Interrogation Team, according to House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and a senior administration official who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly.


John Hannah, former State Department aide and now analyst at the Washington-based think tank, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, sees part of the tactical value of Friday’s raid resting on how well it roils the ISIS leadership. “The rest of the leadership has got to be more wary than they were before,” he says, arguing the strike was a statement.

But for the statement to have real effect, follow-up raids are needed. “My sense has long been that the U.S. could do quite a bit more to defeat ISIS,” says Jonathan Schanzer, Hannah’s colleague at the FDD. “We are hindered by a reticence on the part of American decision makers to put boots on the ground. The success of this raid only serves to underscore this.”

He says that capturing Abu Sayyaf alive “would have obviously been preferable,” and adds that it’s unclear whether the militant commander’s wife would provide valuable intelligence. Even so, “American successes on the battlefield involving Special Forces give the U.S. an edge in the psychological battle.”


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