US Knew for Weeks Islamic State Leader Was Dead

By Jeff Seldin November 30, 2022

Word from the Islamic State terror group that it had lost its second leader in less than a year came as no surprise to the United States, which had been aware of his demise for more than a month.

IS, also known as ISIS or Daesh, announced the death of Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi in a short audio statement Wednesday, with spokesman Abu Umar al-Muhajir saying, “He died fighting the enemies of God, killing some of them before being killed like a man on the battlefield.”

U.S. Central Command later issued its own statement, confirming Abu al-Hassan was killed in mid-October in Syria’s southern Daraa province by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a rebel group that does not partner with the U.S.

BREAKING: US confirms death of #ISIS leader Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi during a Free Syrian Army operation in #Dar’a province in #Syria this past October pic.twitter.com/ABd3snI5FY
— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) November 30, 2022

But despite the lack of American involvement in the operation, U.S. officials were quickly brought in to examine the results.

Based on evidence at the scene and subsequent DNA testing, the U.S. determined the FSA had in fact killed Abu al-Hassan, a U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the intelligence, told VOA.

The U.S. official did not say why the U.S. refused to confirm the IS leader’s death until now, nor have U.S. defense and intelligence officials explained how they were able to identify him though DNA, as Abu al-Hassan is not his real name but a nom de guerre.

Intelligence gathered by United Nation member states and published in July suggested Abu al-Hassan was most likely one of two people – Juma’a Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri, the brother of former IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or Abd al-Raouf al-Muhajir, who led the IS general directorate of provinces.

Other, earlier reports suggested Abu al-Hassan was Iraqi national Bashar Khattab Ghazal al-Sumaida’i, but Turkish officials confirmed in recent months that al-Sumaida’i as been in their custody since May, following a raid in Istanbul.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group that was among the first to report on a series of FSA raids that led to the IS leader’s death, on Wednesday gave his real name as Abd Al-Rahman Al-Iraqi.

Regardless, U.S. officials welcomed the announcement of the IS leader’s death.

“We are pleased to see the removal of ISIS’ top leaders in such quick succession,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, noting the death of the group’s previous leader this past February.

“We will build on these counterterrorism successes,” she added. “We’ll keep that pressure on for sure.”

Abu al-Hassan’s death, while not at the hands of the U.S., is the latest in a series of heavy blows to the terror group’s leadership.

In addition to the death of Abu al-Hassan’s predecessor in February and the arrest of al-Sumaida’i in May, IS has lost at least five other senior officials in the past eight months.

Hani Ahmed al-Kurdi, a key leader for the group’s Syrian operations, was captured in a U.S. helicopter raid in June.

A U.S. drone strike in July killed Maher al-Agal, said to be the top IS official in Syria.

Then, in October, a U.S. raid in the northeastern Syria village of Qamishli killed Rakkan Wahid al-Shammri, a longtime IS operative and smuggler.

The U.S. followed up less than 24 hours later with an airstrike that killed two more top IS officials: Abu ‘Ala, described as one of the terror group’s “top five,” and Abu Mu’Ad al-Qahtani, the IS official responsible for prisoner affairs.

Even before the most recent operations targeting IS, U.S. officials had said the terror group had essentially been forced into survival mode by “a major talent loss in ISIS senior leadership.”

“[It] has caused them to focus on kind of branch expansion that has diffused the threat and, again, made the focus on the United States less acute than we had seen in prior years,” National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid told a conference this past September.

The terror organization has also seen its ranks thin considerably. Intelligence estimates shared by the U.S. and by U.N. member states indicate IS has gone from commanding possibly upwards of 20,000 fighters in the months after the collapse of the last remnant of its self-declared caliphate in Syria, to overseeing perhaps as few as 6,000 across Syria and Iraq.

The task of leading IS now falls to Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi, named as the group’s new emir in the same statement announcing Abu al-Hassan’s death.

“He is one of the veteran warriors and one of the loyal sons of the Islamic State,” said IS spokesman al-Muhajir.

According to JihadoScope, a company that monitors jihadi activity on social media, some IS followers have already began pledging their allegiance, or bay’ah, to the new leader.

In the past, IS followed the announcement of a new leader with social media campaigns showing followers around the world pledging their support.


U.S. Department of Defense

November 29, 2022

By Jim Garamone , DOD News

China Military Power Report Examines Changes in Beijing’s Strategy

The 2022 China Military Power Report lays out the challenges facing the United States military as it works to manage relations with the emerging superpower.

The report, released today, calls the Peoples’ Republic of China “the most consequential and systemic challenge to our national security and to a free and open international system.”

A senior defense official speaking on background said China is increasingly clear, in its ambitions and intentions. “It’s important to understand the contours of [Peoples’ Liberation Army] modernization to include their thinking about what the PLA’s way of war would look like, to kind of survey their current activities and modernizing capabilities and to assess their future military modernization goals,” he said to reporters prior to the release of the report.

The official said an important element of China’s strategy “is a determined pursuit to amass and expand its national power to transform — at least — aspects of the international system to make it more favorable to the PRC’s political system and its national interests.” This is a prime aspect of both domestic and foreign policy initiatives.

The official noted that as part of this, there is a trend of more coercive military behavior by China. “We’ve seen more coercive and aggressive actions in the Indo-Pacific region, including some of which we would highlight as being dangerous,” he said. This includes PLA ships and aircraft demonstrating unsafe and unprofessional behavior.

He noted that Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III specifically mentioned this in his meeting with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Defense Ministers meeting in Cambodia last week.

Another element of China’s strategy is strengthening the PLA’s strategic deterrence capabilities. China defines this element broadly to include nuclear, space, cyber, electronic warfare, counterspace capabilities and more.

The official said the United States assesses that China has more than 400 operational nuclear warheads in its stockpile now. If this modernization effort continues, the Chinese could field about 1,500 warheads by 2035, he said.

The report also examines China’s “intensified” diplomatic, economic, political and military pressure against Taiwan. As part of this, the report also covers China’s efforts to conflate the U.S.’s One China Policy with the PRC’s own One China Principle. Chinese leaders do this to “erroneously portray broad international support for the PRC’s claims over Taiwan, and attempts to legitimize PRC coercive actions against Taiwan,” the official said.

The report is primarily a discussion of the military aspects of China, and it offers new insights on how the PLA views the future of warfare. “The PLA refers to ‘systems destruction warfare’ as the next way of war,” the official said. “They’ve also begun discussing a new operational concept for them: what they call a core operational concept … called multi-domain precision warfare.”

This new concept is intended to help identify key vulnerabilities in an adversary’s operational system, and then to launch precision strikes against those vulnerabilities, he said. These could be kinetic or non-kinetic. “Basically, it’s a way that they’re thinking about looking across domains to identify vulnerabilities in an adversary’s operational system and then to exploit those to cause its collapse,” the official said.

The report also addresses topics that illuminate the strategic thinking of Chinese leaders in strategic stability, China’s views on information and information dominance, and what the PLA is thinking about expanded military diplomacy, the official said.

One key theme is China “wants its economic and political and social and military and security developments to be coordinated and mutually reinforcing, and to support the ambitious objectives that Xi Jinping has laid out for national rejuvenation by 2049,” the official said. The report looks at China’s military modernization and defense strategy, but also looks at elements of China’s economic policy and foreign policy, “and how these all kind of fit together with the military and defense modernization in pursuit of its regional and global ambitions,” the official said.

Specifically, this addresses China’s military-civil fusion development strategy. The report says Beijing seeks to develop and acquire advanced dual-use technology for its military, while also serving a broader purpose to strengthen all of the PRC’s instruments of national power.

China is also growing its national industrial and technological base. “in terms of kind of broader defense ambitions, the PRC has a strategy that entails strengthening and adapting its armed forces to what it views as kind of long-term trends and global military affairs,” the official said. “As an outcome of the 20th Party Congress [in October], Beijing is focusing on intensifying and accelerating the PLA’s modernization goals over the next five years, including strengthening what they refer to as its system of strategic deterrence.”

The report details China’s regional and global ambitions. “As we noted in last year’s report, Xi Jinping and the PRC leadership are determined that the armed forces should take a more active role in advancing the PRC’s foreign policy goals globally,” the official said.

The Chinese military is pursuing overseas bases and logistics facilities. This would allow the PLA to project and sustain military power at much greater distances from its borders.

The report stresses that there is a potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation. “That kind of emphasizes the importance of effective and timely communications between the Department of Defense and the PLA,” the official said. “Strategic competition — even as strategic competition intensifies — doesn’t mean that confrontation or conflict is inevitable or unavoidable. And we’ve been clear that we’re committed to responsibly managing the competition with the PRC to try to ensure that it doesn’t veer into conflict unnecessarily.”