The self-proclaimed Islamic State said that its chief strategist Abu Muhammad al-Adnani had been killed in northern Syria Tuesday. The Pentagon confirmed it had carried out an air strike targeting Adnani. Unnamed U.S. officials told reporters (NYT) a U.S. drone hit a vehicle believed to be carrying Adnani. Meanwhile, Russia’s foreign ministry claimed its forces were responsible for Adnani’s death (Middle East Eye). Adnani was considered the official spokesman of the Islamic State (ARA) and had a $5 million U.S. bounty on him.


“Adnani, who was in his late thirties, had long been an American nemesis, dating back to 2003. His real name was Taha Sobhi Falaha, but he used at least half a dozen other names during his life. He was one of the first foreign fighters to target the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. He was an early adherent of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The United States actually had Adnani in custody for more than five years, according to a United Nations biography that accompanied the imposition of international sanctions on him, in 2014,” the U.N. biography said,” Robin Wright writes for the New Yorker.

“A founding member of the Islamic State, Mr. Adnani, a 39-year-old Syrian, was the group’s chief spokesman and propagandist, running an operation that put out slickly produced videos of beheadings and massacres that shocked the world and sent a rush of recruits running to join the group in Syria. Accounts from arrested members of the Islamic State confirmed Mr. Adnani’s role as an operational leader as well. He oversaw the group’s external operations division, responsible for recruiting operatives around the world and instigating or organizing them to carry out attacks that have included Paris, Brussels and Dhaka, Bangladesh,” Eric Schmitt and Anne Barnard write for the New York Times.

“Jenna Jordan examined 298 leadership targeting incidents from 1945 through 2004, and concluded that ‘decapitation is  not an effective counterterrorism strategy,’ and oftentimes prolongs the life of a terrorist group. On the other hand, Bryan C. Price concluded, by analyzing the effect of leadership decapitation on 207 terrorist groups from 1970 to 2008, the killing or capturing leaders significantly increases the mortality rate of the group. In 2014, Jordan reviewed the impact of 109 attacks on al-Qaeda leadership from 2001 to 2011, and did not find a ‘significant degradation of organizational capacity or a marked disruption in al-Qaida’s activities,’ measured in the number of attacks and their lethality,” CFR’s Micah Zenko writes in this blog post.