A risky military ground raid by U.S. special operations forces on a cave complex in northern Somalia on Wednesday night killed Bilal al-Sudani, a top leader and organizer with the Islamic State, U.S. officials said.
Biden authorized the operation earlier this week.
The US sought to capture Bilal al-Sudani for intelligence reasons.
Al-Sudani was killed in a firefight January 25 along with 10 ISIS compatriots, according to the officials.
There were no U.S. casualties in the raid, the officials said, emphasizing that there were also no civilian casualties — though officials later clarified that one of the U.S. service members had suffered a dog bite from a dog serving with U.S. forces.
The officials said President Joe Biden had authorized the raid earlier this week after conferring with his national security team.
The operation came in a remote mountainous cave complex inside the troubled nation on the Horn of Africa, where both the Islamic State and al-Shabab operate and are contesting government forces.
The officials revealed scant information about the nature of the operation – including how exactly the U.S. carried out the ‘kinetic operation.’ In the past, the U.S. has used armed drones, attack helicopters, and bunker-busting bombs to take out terror targets.
President Biden authorized the operation last week, after ‘careful consideration of its risks and benefits’ by a team of officials who recommended the action.
The development comes days after an explosion ripped through buildings near the mayor’s office in Mogadishu, and after a U.S. military strike killed nearly 30 al-Shabaab fighters near the town of Galcad.
The U.S. forces that conducted the raid had rehearsed it many times at a mock-up facility that simulated the target area — a technique similar to what U.S. special operations forces did prior to the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan.
U.S. forces had prepared for the possibility of capturing al-Sudani, the officials said, ‘but the hostile forces response to the operation resulted in his death.’
The officials refused to say whether the timing of the operation indicated that there was an imminent attack threat to the U.S.
‘On January 25, on orders from the President, the U.S. military conducted an assault operation in northern Somalia that resulted in the death of a number of ISIS members, including Bilal-al-Sudani, an ISIS leader in Somalia and a key facilitator for ISIS’s global network,’ Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
‘Al-Sudani was responsible for fostering the growing presence of ISIS in Africa and for funding the group’s operations worldwide, including in Afghanistan,’ Austin continued.
‘This action leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure, and it reflects our steadfast commitment to protecting Americans from the threat of terrorism at home and abroad,’ he said, praising ‘our extraordinary service members as well as our intelligence community and other interagency partners for their support to this successful counterterrorism operation.’
He said it ‘leaves the United States and its partners safer and more secure’ and reflects our ‘steadfast commitment’ to protecting Americans from terrorist threats. No civilians were harmed, he said.
Biden was briefed on the operation, which was months in the making, by the Defense Department once planning reached a ‘critical stage’ last week.
He was joined by his Director of National Intelligence, counterterrorism advisors, the deputy director of the CIA, and the attorney general, and other senior team members in advance of the operation.
Officials said the ‘intended capture’ of Al-Sudani was deemed the ‘best option’ for intelligence gathering and other reasons. That came after a ‘careful evaluation’ of whether ‘alternative options existed .. with even lower risk.’