The U.S. military killed a key ISIS facilitator, Bilal al-Sudani, and about 10 ISIS operatives in a counterterrorism mission that resulted in no U.S. casualties, senior administration officials said Thursday.
Officials said that after “extensive planning and exquisite execution of the plan, there were no casualties among American service members or civilians.”
Officials say al-Sudani was involved in funding a network of ISIS affiliates around the world. One official said al-Sudani had specifically been funding and expanding ISIS’ reach throughout Africa and through the ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed the assault operation in a statement Thursday afternoon, saying al-Sudani “was responsible for fostering the growing presence of ISIS in Africa and for funding the group’s operations worldwide, including in Afghanistan.”
“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,” Austin said. “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.”
U.S. Africa Command on Thursday afternoon also confirmed the mission.
“Protecting civilians remains a vital part of the command’s operations to promote greater security for all Africans,” U.S. Africa Command said.
The operation was the result of what officials called “extraordinary coordination and careful planning across all elements of the U.S. government for many months.”
Planning of the operation reached a “critical stage” last week. The Pentagon briefed President Biden on the plan, along with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Deputy CIA Director David Cohen, Attorney General Merrick Garland and other senior members of the White House national security team.
Biden authorized the operation earlier this week after “ensuring that key questions that he had about the risk to our forces and the impact of the operation on potential civilians in the area had been answered to his satisfaction.”
Biden’s decision to approve the operation followed a recommendation from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, as well as “careful consideration of its risks and benefits in consultation with his intelligence community and national security team.”
There was an evaluation of whether alternative options existed to address the threats from al-Sudani with even lower risk to U.S. forces.
“An intended capture operation was ultimately determined to be the best option to maximize the intelligence value of the operation and increase its precision in challenging terrain,” one official said. “At the same time, and based on extensive past experience, we recognize that even an intended capture operation might well result in al-Sudani’s death — as it ultimately did.”
The official said there was “one injury.”
“That was a dog bite by one of our canines on one of our own service members,” the official said. “That’s how precise and meticulous this operation was.”
Another official described the operation as a “significant counterterrorism achievement” and that it reflects “key ways” in which the Biden administration’s approach to addressing international terrorist threats have evolved.
“Our approach starts from the fundamental recognition that the terrorism threat today is more diverse — ideologically diverse and geographically dispersed than it was 20 or so years ago,” the official said.
The official said the Biden administration has determined that the U.S. needs to have “the combination of light footprints, operational agility and intelligence inside to determine where the threats to Americans arise from now.” The official said those threats include ISIS, Al-Shabaab and others.
Officials added that the intelligence community “expects to glean valuable information from this operation.”
“The United States and our allies and partners are safer today as a result of this operation than yesterday,” an official said. “The president will continue to take all necessary steps to protect the United States and its interests around the world from terrorist threats where they exist.”