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US ‘Fairly Certain’ It Killed Top ISIS Leader … For The Fifth Time

The Department of Defense announced Tuesday that U.S. forces conducted an air strike on the possible location of the infamous Islamic State military leader known as Omar the Chechen, though his death has yet to be confirmed.

Omar, also known as Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili and Omar al-Shishani (the Chechen), has been remarkably difficult to kill. His death has been reported at least five times, including the latest report. He was also reported to have been captured by U.S. forces in December 2015, however, the Pentagon later denied the claim.

“A U.S. airstrike on March 4, near al-Shaddadi, Syria, targeted senior ISIL [ISIS] leader Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili, also known as Abu Umar al-Shishani, and ‘Omar the Chechen,'” said Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook in a statement provided to journalists Tuesday.

Cook described Shishani as a “battle-tested leader” who led ISIS forces in many engagements throughout Syria and Iraq.

“His potential removal from the battlefield would negatively impact ISIL’s ability to recruit foreign fighters – especially those from Chechnya and the Caucus regions – and degrade ISIL’s ability to coordinate attacks and defense of its strongholds like Raqqah, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq,” said Cook.

Shishani hailed from Georgia where he once served as a sergeant in an elite Georgian special forces unit that sometimes received training from U.S forces. He left to join ISIS after being discharged when he contracted tuberculosis. Sporting his signature red beard, Shishani rose to stardom in the ISIS ranks and was often seen in photographs and propaganda. His notoriety and quick rise in the ISIS ranks earned him a designation as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the U.S. Treasury Department in September 2014.

According to Cook’s statement, Shishani was a member of ISIS’ elite Shura Council and a senior military commander. It is believed that he was in Shaddadi to help support fighters there who were losing territory to U.S.-backed Syrian rebels.

Though killing Shishani would be a great get for the U.S. military, Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal is skeptical as to how much of a real effect his death would have on the ISIS ranks.

“The Islamic State, like al-Qaida, has weathered the loss of key leaders and both groups continue to conduct effective military operations throughout the globe,” said Roggio in a piece for the Long War Journal Wednesday.

Roggio points to the killing of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Nasir al-Wuhayshi as an example of the ability of the terrorist groups to work around the killing of key leaders. Wuhayshi served as a key general for AQAP until his death in June 2015. Roggio noted despite his death, AQAP has been able to conquer “a large region in southern Yemen.”

Should Shishani be dead, Roggio believes that he would be replaced by his deputy, Islam Seit-Umarovich, who he described as “a capable military commander” and ISIS recruiter.

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