American special operations forces killed a senior Islamic State leader who helped direct the group’s oil, gas and financial operations during a raid in eastern Syria, U.S. officials said on Saturday.
The White House said President Barack Obama ordered the overnight raid that killed the man identified as Abu Sayyaf. U.S. officials said his wife, Umm Sayyaf, was captured in the raid and was being held in Iraq.
This was the first known U.S. special forces operation inside Syria apart from a failed secret effort to rescue a number of U.S. and other foreign hostages held by Islamic State in northeastern Syria last year.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said in a statement that U.S. personnel based out of Iraq conducted the operation in al-Amr in eastern Syria.
“During the course of the operation, Abu Sayyaf was killed when he engaged U.S. forces,” Meehan said.
“The president authorized this operation upon the unanimous recommendation of his national security team and as soon as we had developed sufficient intelligence and were confident the mission could be carried out successfully and consistent with the requirements for undertaking such operations,” Meehan said.
The White House said the U.S. did not inform Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in advance of the raid, or coordinate with Damascus. Shortly before the U.S. announcement, Syrian state television said the Syrian army killed an Islamic State leader responsible for oil-related affairs, identifying him as Abu al-Taym al-Saudi.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that U.S. special operations forces conducted the operation targeting Abu Sayyaf and his wife. Carter said Abu Sayyaf was involved in the militant organization’s military operations and helped direct its “illicit oil, gas and financial operations as well.”
Carter said the wife “played an important role in ISIL’s terrorist activities. Meehan said during the operation U.S. forces freed a young Yezidi woman “who appears to have been held as a slave by the couple.” Meehan said the wife is now in U.S. military detention in Iraq.
No U.S. forces were killed or wounded during the operation, Carter said.
U.S. and Arab forces have been carrying out almost daily air raids against hardline Islamist militant groups in Syria including Islamic State since last September, and U.S.-led forces are also targeting the group in Iraq.