The US military said on Sunday it conducted a strike that killed Usamah al-Muhajir, an Islamic State leader in eastern Syria.

“The strike on Friday was conducted by the same MQ-9s that had, earlier in the day, been harassed by Russian aircraft in an encounter that had lasted almost two hours,” a statement from US Central Command said.

It was not immediately clear how the US military confirmed that the person killed was Muhajir. Central Command did not give any more details about him.

The statement said there were no indications any civilians were killed in the strike. The military was assessing reports that a civilian may have been injured.

“We have made it clear that we remain committed to the defeat of Isis throughout the region,” Gen Erik Kurilla, commander of US Central Command, said in the statement.

Washington has stepped up raids and operations against suspected Islamic State operatives in Syria, killing and arresting leaders who had taken shelter in areas under Turkey-backed rebel control after the group lost its last territory in Syria in 2019.

The US-led campaign which killed former IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared himself the “caliph of all Muslims”, has since targeted surviving leaders, many of whom are thought to have planned attacks abroad.

US military commanders say the IS remains a significant threat within the region, though its capabilities have been degraded and its ability to re-establish its network weakened.

At its peak in 2014, the IS controlled one-third of Iraq and Syria. Though it was beaten back in both countries, its militants continue to mount insurgent attacks.

US releases footage of Russian fighter jets ‘harassing’ US drones over Syria – video

The US air force earlier released video footage it said showed an encounter between the drones and Russian fighter jets on Wednesday, which forced the MQ-9 Reapers to take evasive action.

US Air Forces Central said in a statement: “These events represent a new level of unprofessional and unsafe action by Russian air forces operating in Syria.”

Lt Gen Alex Grynkewich, commander of Ninth Air Force in the Middle East, said one of the Russian pilots moved their aircraft in front of a drone and engaged the SU-35’s afterburner, reducing the drone operator’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.

R Adm Oleg Gurinov, head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, said the Russian and Syrian militaries had started a six-day joint training that was set to end on Monday.

In comments carried by Syrian state media, Gurinov said Moscow was concerned about flights of drones by the US-led coalition over northern Syria, calling them “systematic violations of protocols” designed to avoid clashes between the two militaries.


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