The Demise of a Dangerous Man

On Rosh Chodesh Adar, the world became a somewhat safer place, when U.S. commandos brought about the demise of the shadowy leader of the Islamic State, Amir Muhammad Said Abdel-Rahman al-Mawla, better known by the name he adopted, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurayshi.

The virtually moonless Rosh Chodesh night provided dark cover for the assault on the residential building in Atmeh, Syria, where al-Qurayshi had taken up residence. The raid was carried out by about two dozen Army Delta Force commandos backed by Apache helicopter gunships, armed Reaper drones and attack jets.

Residents of the building were woken in the middle of the night by the sound of approaching helicopters. In the pre-dawn hours, an Arabic message over a loudspeaker warned them to come out, to preserve their lives. The terrorist leader, too, was told to surrender.

Innocent residents of the building’s first floor, a man, woman and four children, emerged and were directed to safety. Al-Qurayshi, though, remained on the third floor and, when he realized what was happening, he detonated a powerful bomb that killed him and members of his family, including young children. Commandos then stormed the building and engaged in a firefight with a confederate of al-Qurayshi who had acted as his courier and lived on the second floor.

The courier and his wife, officials said, were killed, as was one child, but four other children were safely evacuated from the floor.

When the two-hour operation was over, 13 bodies, including those of six children, were recovered from the rubble, according to rescue workers. Most were killed, U.S. officials said, by al-Qurayshi’s final act.

All of the American troops, baruch Hashem, returned safely from the operation,

Consideration of the operation began late last year, Biden administration officials revealed, when the U.S. received a tip that al-Qurayshi was living on the building’s top floor. Months of careful planning ensued, to maximize the chances of success in apprehending or killing al-Qurayshi, and to minimize, if not eliminate completely, innocent casualties.

Military engineers, mindful of the danger to civilians and the commandos, told Mr. Biden that they did not believe the entire building would collapse if al-Qurayshi chose to detonate explosives on the third floor, an estimation that proved accurate.

In brief remarks at the White House, President Biden stressed the measures taken to protect innocents, noting that military officials had maintained that attacking the building with a bomb or a missile would have been safer for the troops but could have endangered the more than a dozen civilians in the house, including children.

“Knowing that this terrorist had chosen to surround himself with families,” the president said, “we made a choice to pursue a Special Forces raid, at a much greater risk… to our own people, rather than targeting him with an airstrike. We made this choice to minimize civilian casualties.”

The elimination of the Islamic State leader dealt a major blow to the terrorist group. Even though the U.S. and other nations, along with local forces, forced the group’s “Caliphate” in 2019 from the last vestige of the large swath of territory it controlled along the Syria-Iraq border, the group’s adherents have persisted in terrorist activities and in their hopes to reclaim territory.

Although all the facts about a raid like last week’s cannot be fully known so soon after the action, Pentagon officials said that 10 civilians, including eight children, had been safely evacuated from the building. Seeming to acknowledge recent media reports of U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan and elsewhere having killed civilians, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said that the Pentagon would review whether the raid had caused any civilian casualties.

Things can, and almost always do, go off-plan in complex operations like last week’s. And, in fact, one of the helicopters ferrying commandos to the building experienced a mechanical problem that required it to fly to a remote location where it was intentionally destroyed. And, at the end of the operation, several armed al-Qaida terrorists approached the house in a menacing manner. Two of them were killed in the firefight that ensued, and the others fled.

But, baruch Hashem, the operation was a success in its laudable goal of removing a major terrorist leader from the planet. Any civilian casualties were regrettable, but were the tragic yield of terrorists’ proclivity to try to shield themselves from attacks by making sure they were ensconced among innocents.

The U.S., like Israel, takes the lives of civilians seriously, and both countries take extraordinary measures to prevent innocent casualties.

Therein lies an irony: The “Great Satan” and “Little Satan,” as Islamists like to call the U.S. and Israel, do all they can to protect innocents, while the name-callers do all they can to kill them.

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