A top commander of so-called Islamic State (IS) may have survived a recent US air strike in north-eastern Syria, US defence officials in Iraq say.
Omar Shishani, a Georgian whose real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, may have “limped away” from the bombing, a US spokesman said. Twelve of 13 people targeted in the attack are known to have died, the spokesman said. There has so far been no comment from IS over Shishani’s fate.
Last year, the US offered a $5m (£3.5m) reward for Shishani who, it said, had held numerous top military positions within the group, including “minister of war”.
Late on Wednesday, a UK-based Syrian opposition news service, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said its sources had confirmed that an air strike had targeted Shishani’s convoy on Friday. Several of his bodyguards were killed, the sources said, but the commander himself was badly wounded. “He’s not dead,” the Syrian Observatory’s director, Rami Abdul Rahman, told AFP news agency. “He was taken from the province of Hassakeh to a hospital in Raqqa province, where he was treated by a jihadist doctor of European origin.”
US officials have said they believe Shishani was sent to the Shaddadi area to reinforce IS militants following a series of military defeats. Shaddadi was captured last month by the Syrian Arab Coalition, an alliance of Arab rebel groups which joined forces with the Kurdish YPG militia to battle IS.
However, a senior US general said the US-led fight against IS was “not quite yet at an inflection point” despite recent successes, including the reported capture of a top IS chemical weapons expert in Iraq. General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the joints chiefs of staff, told a conference in Washington that IS was an “incredibly flexible opponent” that was “highly decentralised and incredibly resilient”.