(CNN) Two ISIS senior military commanders died last week in a U.S. airstrike, killing a man that the United States says oversaw the terror group’s 2014 offensive to capture the all-important Iraqi city of Mosul, the Pentagon said Friday.
The June 25 airstrike near Mosul killed ISIS’ deputy minister of war, Basim Muhammad Ahmad Sultan al-Bajari, and Hatim Talib al-Hamduni, a military commander in the area, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said. Bajari oversaw ISIS’ efforts to capture Mosul in June 2014, Cook said.
“These deaths are the latest in coalition efforts to systemically eliminate ISIL’s cabinet wherever they hide, disrupting their ability to plot external terror attacks and hold onto the territory they use to claim legitimacy. The international coalition fighting ISIL, working with local, capable, and motivated forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria, continues to make sustained progress in our campaign to deal ISIL a lasting defeat,” Cook said in a news release, using another name for ISIS.
“Al-Bajari was an experienced terrorist, a former member of al Qaeda who brought his military skills into ISIL’s terrorist network. He oversaw ISIL’s June 2014 offensive to capture Mosul, and has also led the ISIL Jaysh al-Dabiq battalion known for using vehicle-borne IEDs, suicide bombers and mustard gas in its attacks. He used his military experience to consolidate ISIL’s control over Mosul, where they have engaged in dictatorial rule and sectarian murder and oppression since 2014. Hatim Talib al-Hamduni was an ISIL military commander in Mosul and the head of military police for self-proclaimed Ninawa state.”
The strike comes days after a major triumph for Iraq — its forces announced the liberation of Falluja after weeks of fighting.
Now, Iraq and Kurdish fighters turn their attention toward wresting control of the northern metropolis from the terror network. Iraq plans to undertake its offensive sometime this year, taking back towns and villages surrounding the city and then taking Mosul back from the terror network. Mosul is the second-largest city in Iraq and its liberation is a priority for the forces battling ISIS.
Despite its purported involvement in the Istanbul and Dhaka terror attacks this week, ISIS appears to be on the defensive across its Middle East — from its self-declared capital of Raqqa in Syria to Falluja, just 65 kilometers (40 miles) from the capital, Baghdad.
While no one has claimed responsibility for the airport assault, analysts believe ISIS was involved. ISIS claimed responsibility for the Dhaka terror attack, according to Amaq, an ISIS media branch, but some officials cast doubt on the claim.