Photographer: ABD DOUMANY/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Airstrikes Target Top Islamic State Commander in Syria

  • `Omar the Chechen' may have been killed in U.S. strike
  • Georgian-born terrorist has operated in Iraq and Syria

U.S. airstrikes targeted and may have killed a top commander of Islamic State who has operated in both Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon said.

QuickTake Fighting Islamic State

Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, who goes by aliases including “Omar the Chechen” and Abu Omar, was among a group of Islamic State fighters targeted March 4 in the Al Shaddadi area of northeastern Syria by multiple waves of manned and unmanned U.S. aircraft, according to a defense official who asked for anonymity and wasn’t authorized to discuss the attack publicly.

A native of Georgia, Batirashvili was one of 12 fighters the Treasury Department designated as global terrorists in 2014. He was singled out as the head of Islamic State’s military in a June 2014 video, months after he led about 1,000 foreign fighters attacking Syrian government positions, Treasury said.

“His potential removal from the battlefield would negatively impact ISIL’s ability to recruit foreign fighters -- especially those from Chechnya and the Caucus regions -- and degrade ISIL’s ability to coordinate attacks and defense of its strongholds like Raqqah, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said Tuesday, using an alternate acronym for Islamic State.

In a separate operation last month, U.S. special forces captured a chemical weapons expert for Islamic State in Iraq who has since discussed plans by the terrorist group to use mustard gas in artillery shells, the New York Times reported.

The latest U.S. strikes come as a partial cease-fire started in February has lowered the level of violence in Syria, five years after civil war began. Russia and the U.S. brokered that accord in an effort to breathe new life into a stalled peace process. The United Nations began a new round of political negotiations Wednesday.

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