The U.S.-led coalition killed multiple figures within ISIS senior leadership over the last few weeks, including an operative closely linked to the ringleader of the November attacks in Paris, the spokesman for the coalition said Tuesday.
Col. Steve Warren said 10 senior ISIS leaders operating in both Iraq and Syria, “including several external attack planners,” with designs on attacking western targets, had been killed in airstrikes.
Charaffe al Mouadan, a Syrian-based member of ISIS with a “direct link” to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Belgian-born ringleader of the terror attacks in Paris, was killed in a December 24 airstrike, and was “actively planning additional attacks against the West,” Warren said.
Abaaoud was killed in a police raid in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis last month and had direct contacts, the coalition said, with al Mouadan before the attacks took place, which killed more than 120 people.
In addition to al Mouadan, nine other figures focused on everything from planning attacks on Western targets to overseeing ISIS finances to the organization’s hacking efforts were killed in airstrikes dating back to December 7.
“I think any organization that sees its middle and upper management degraded in this way is going to lose some of their synergy,” he said. “It’s difficult to command and control an organization without the command and control personnel.”
The coalition has also killed other senior ISIS figures in recent months, such Mohammed Emwazi, aka “Jihadi John,” and before that Abu Sayyaf, a senior figure in the group’s oil and petroleum operations.
Warren’s detailing of recent U.S. successes in taking out ISIS figures coincides with a stepped-up effort by the Obama administration to broadcast its wins in taking on ISIS to reassure the American public that it has an effective approach for combatting the terror group.
President Barack Obama held a meeting with his national security team at the Pentagon on December 14 and told them he wanted to see a better job of having the so-called “narrative” of the war on ISIS communicated to the American people, according to a senior defense official.
However, Warren acknowledged Tuesday that, “We have not severed behead of this snake yet, and it has still got has fangs. There’s much more fighting to do.”
And a source close to the investigation into the Paris attacks told CNN that contrary to the coalition depiction of al Mouadan as an ISIS leader, he was not suspected by French investigators of having a senior role in ISIS.
The source did say, however, that he was in touch with the Paris plotters days before the attack. The source said that investigators are still determining the role, if any, he played in the attacks.
The source said that one of the surviving concertgoers at the Bataclan music venue told investigators that one of the gunmen asked another of the attackers whether he was going to call an individual called “Souleymane” as the attack was ongoing.
The second attacker replied, “No,” and chided the other attacker, telling him to speak in Arabic rather than in French. Souleymane is one of the known aliases of al Mouadan.
El-Mouadan was a close associate of Samy Amimour, one of the Bataclan gunmen, according to the source, who said both were investigated in 2012 for suspected terrorist activity. According to Le Parisien newspaper, which on December 21 first reported details about the discussion of a call to Souleymane inside the Batclan, al Mouadan traveled from France to Syria in 2013.
In Syria itself on Saturday, rebel forces supported by the American-led coalition successfully recaptured Tishreen Damin in the northwestern part of the country.
The hydroelectric dam along the banks of the Euphrates River had been under ISIS control since November 2012, and its seizure “denies an important logistics route” between the area which includes the key town of Manjib, and Raqaa, the de facto capital of ISIS’s self-declared caliphate, Warren said.
In addition, Iraqi security forces successfully routed ISIS from most of its stronghold in Ramadi in western Iraq over the last few days.
It was after ISIS wrested Ramadi from Iraqi control back in May that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Iraqi forces showed “no will to fight” in an interview with CNN at the time, as they retreated in defeat.
His comments stand in stark contrast to the Pentagon assessment of Iraqi military capabilities today.
While pockets of resistance still exist in and around Ramadi, Warren said the Iraqi Army’s “willingness to fight is pretty well displayed” through its securing of Ramadi in recent days.
He added that further gains by the Iraqis against ISIS were likely because they are “outfitted with modern American equipment, modern conventional training” and supported by coalition airstrikes.
Warren attributed past defeats of the Iraqi army in places like Ramadi and Mosul, a key Iraqi city where local forces essentially melted away in 2014, to it being an army trained for counterinsurgency and not prepared for the more conventional military challenge posed by ISIS.