US-led airstrikes in northern Iraq have killed several "Islamic State" leaders over the past several weeks, US defense officials said Thursday. The strikes come as several hundred US troops prepare to deploy to Iraq to train security forces.
"I can confirm that since mid-November, targeted coalition airstrikes successfully killed multiple senior and mid-level leaders," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
"We believe that the loss of these key leaders degrades [IS'] ability to command and control current operations against Iraqi Security Forces, including Kurdish and other local forces in Iraq," Kirby said.
The most significant IS leader killed was identified as Haji Mutazz, a deputy of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. One of Baghdadi's military chiefs, refered to as Abd al Baist, was also killed, along with a third mid-level IS leader known as Radwin Talib.
"These are high-value targets," the US military's top commander General Martin Dempsey told the Wall Street Journal.
The United States has been been conducting airstrikes against the IS group since August 8.
US troops prepare for deployment
The deaths of the leaders come as United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signed orders for the first group of US soldiers to deploy to Iraq to train Iraqi security forces. The Obama administration recently decided to deploy 1,500 more American troops to the country to advise and train Iraqis.
Additional US troops will begin deploying to Iraq in the coming weeks, with the intended goal of training Iraqi units to regain areas seized by the Islamic State this past summer, such as the city of Mosul.
Army Lt. Gen. James Terry, who is leading the US campaign against the Islamic State, warned that training the Iraqi military will take years.
"I think what we must do, especially inside of Iraq, is continue to build those (Iraqi) capabilities. I think you're at least talking a minimum of three years," Terry said. He declined to comment on when a potential operation to retake the city of Mosul may be launched.
At least 1,000 feared dead in Syrian village held by IS
Meanwhile, at least 1,000 people are feared to have been killed in the Syrian village of al-Kashkiya, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.
"There are still 1,000 people missing from the Shoueitat tribe. We believe they were all executed by Islamic State fighters when they advanced into the village of al-Kashkiya last summer," Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Observatory said.
The announcement comes a day after activists reported the discovery of 230 bodies of Shoueitat tribe members in a mass grave.
bw/bk (AP, AFP, dpa)