CIA, JSOC cooperate to take out radicals in Syria and Iraq


With no regular American presence in the war theater, the US has struggled to answer basic intelligence questions about the situation in Syria and Iraq, including the Daesh group’s fighting strength. And the US-led bombing campaign has failed to dislodge the group from its self-declared caliphate across both countries.
But one element is seen as a growing intelligence and military success: The combined effort by the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to find and kill “high value” targets from both Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
The drone strikes — separate from the large air campaign run by US Central Command — have significantly diminished the threat from the Khorasan Group, an Al-Qaeda cell in Syria that had planned attacks on American aviation, officials say. The group’s leader, Muhsin Al-Fadhli, and its top bomb-maker, David Drugeon, were killed this summer. Other targeted strikes have taken out senior Daesh group figures, including its second in command, known as Haji Mutazz.
Intelligence analysts and special operators have harnessed an array of satellites, sensors, drones and other technology to find and kill elusive militants across a vast, rugged area of Syria and Iraq, despite the lack of a ground presence and steps taken by US targets to disguise their use of electronic devices.
The strikes won’t defeat Daesh, but they are keeping its leadership off balance, a senior defense official involved in planning them said. “They are constantly having to adjust, which means they don’t have a lot of time to sit there and plan large and effective attacks,” the official said.
Like others interviewed for this story, the official was not authorized to discuss intelligence matters publicly and would not be quoted by name.
As in Pakistan and Yemen, missiles fired from unmanned drones have been used to kill high-value targets in Syria and Iraq. But unlike in Pakistan and Yemen, JSOC, not the CIA, has been pulling the trigger in Syria and Iraq, officials say.


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