US air strike on Islamic State convoy killed leader’s key aide

US unable to confirm if Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi among casualties, amid warning that Isis leadership would regenerate

A key aide to the leader of Islamic State (Isis) has been killed in a US strike on a convoy near the Iraqi city of Mosul that destroyed 10 vehicles carrying a number of the group’s top militants.

Abdul Rahman al-Athaee, also known as Abu Saja, died in the attack on Friday. A key aide to the Isis leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he travelled frequently with the group’s leadership.

Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman at US central command, said on Saturday: “I can confirm that coalition aircraft did conduct a series of air strikes yesterday evening in Iraq against what was assessed to be a gathering of Isil [Isis] leaders near Mosul. We cannot confirm if Isil leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was among those present.”

Iraqi officials were also unable to confirm whether Baghdadi was among the 50 casualties. Isis did not immediately issue any statement on the strikes.

The news came as Britain’s chief of the defence staff, General Sir Nick Houghton, said on Sunday that the Isis leadership would regenerate itself even if Baghdadi had been killed. In a sign that the UK believed there was a strong chance Baghdadi died in the air strikes, Houghton spoke of “potential death” as he said it would take some days for the US to confirm whether the Isis leader was alive or not.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, the general said: “I can’t absolutely confirm that al-Baghdadi has died. Even the Americans themselves are not yet in a position to do that. Probably it will take some days to have absolute confirmation.”

But Houghton said Isis would fight back if its leader had been killed: “What I wouldn’t want to do is rush to the sense that the potential death of one of their totemic leaders is going to create some strategic reverse within Isis. They will regenerate leadership … because of the current potential attractiveness of this warped ideology.

“Unless we get the political dimension of the strategy in place then Isis has the potential to keep regenerating and certainly regenerating its leaders.

“In Iraq what is needed is government of national unity, inclusive government, so that all the ethnic dimensions of Iraq are combined. This is where the [Nouri] al-Maliki government got it horribly wrong.”

He added that it was important the Maliki administration had been removed and that the Haider al-Abadi government – “which, in its early days is promising to be inclusive” – had support.

Baghdadi, who was said to keep a low profile even among his own armed supporters, made a rare public appearance at a mosque in Mosul in July in which he declared himself the leader of a new caliphate.

A US-led coalition has been launching air strikes on Isis militants and facilities in Iraq and Syria for months as part of an effort to give Iraqi forces the time and space to mount a more effective offensive.

The Pentagon announced on Friday that 1,500 additional US troops would boost the 1,600 military advisers that were already in Iraq to assist the country’s army.

Barack Obama also plans to request $5.6bn (£3.5bn) from Congress, including $1.6bn to be used to train and arm Iraqi forces.


Martin Chulov in Beirut and Nicholas Watt

The GuardianTramp

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