U.S. Central Command on Thursday identified Salim Abu-Ahmad as the senior al-Qaida leader killed in an airstrike near Idlib, Syria on Sept. 20.
“Salim Abu-Ahmad was responsible for planning, funding, and approving trans-regional al-Qaeda attacks,” Army Maj. John Rigsbee, a CENTCOM spokesman told Military Times. “There are no indications of civilian casualties as a result of the strike. This strike continues U.S. operations to degrade international terrorist networks and target terrorist leaders who seek to attack the U.S. homeland and its interests and allies abroad.”
On Sept. 20, rescue workers and a war monitor described the attack as a drone strike that hit a vehicle traveling on a rural road in rebel-controlled northwestern Syria, killing at least one person.
CENTCOM officials did not immediately respond to questions about what kind of aviation asset took part in the strike.
The Civil Defense team, known as White Helmets, said the unidentified body was lifted from the car along the Idlib-Binnish road east of Idlib province.
The totally charred vehicle, split in the middle, lay on the side of the rural road in an orchard.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said the U.S.-led coalition was believed to be behind the strike on the vehicle, which carried a militant from one of the radical groups operating in the province. The Observatory didn’t identify the group but said it was linked to al-Qaida.
The U.S. has carried out attacks in Idlib before, targeting al-Qaida militants and the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who was hiding in the province after fleeing from eastern Syria.
Large parts of Idlib and neighboring Aleppo provinces remain in the hands of Syrian armed opposition, dominated by radical groups including the once al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham,. There are also over 4 million civilians living in the area, most of them displaced from previous bouts of violence in Syria’s 10-year conflict. The Syrian government has vowed to restore control of all of territories outside of its control, but a cease-fire negotiated last year in Idlib has tenaciously held.
The strike came hours before Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that an Air Force general officer would conduct an investigation into the errant Aug. 29 drone strike in Afghanistan that killed 10 people, including seven children. That strike mistakenly targeted an Afghan aid worker thought to be an ISIS-K operative.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has tasked the Air Force with designating a general who will conduct a review of the investigation into the Aug. 29 Hellfire missile strike in Kabul that reportedly killed 10 people, Kirby told reporters Monday.
Austin directed Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to choose a three-star or above to investigate what went wrong, how strike targeting might be changed in the future, and whether anyone involved in the mission should be disciplined. Kendall chose Lt. Gen. Sami Said, the Department of the Air Force inspector general, to lead that investigation.
Accounts from the family, documents from colleagues seen by The Associated Press, and the scene at the family home — where Zemerai Ahmadi’s car was struck by a Hellfire missile just as he pulled into the driveway — all painted a picture of a family that had worked for Americans and were trying to gain visas to the United States, fearing for their lives under the Taliban.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.