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US launches large-scale counter-terrorism raid in Syria

US special operations forces have conducted a large-scale counter-terrorism raid in north-western Syria, in what the Pentagon said was a “successful mission”.

First responders at the scene reported 13 people had been killed, including six children and four women.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a brief statement: “The mission was successful. There were no US casualties. More information will be provided as it becomes available.”

The raid was in Syria’s rebel-held north-western province of Idlib. The Pentagon provided no details on who was the target of the raid, or if any enemies or civilians on the ground were killed or injured.

Idlib is home to several top al Qaida operatives.

Residents and activists in the area described seeing a large ground assault, and US forces using loudspeakers asking women and children to leave the area. There was at least one major explosion.

A US official said that one of the helicopters in the raid suffered a mechanical problem and had to be blown up on the ground.

The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defence, first responders also known as the White Helmets, said 13 people were killed in shelling and clashes that ensued after the US the commando raid. They included six children and four women, it said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, also said the strike killed 13 people, including four children and two women.

Ahmad Rahhal, a citizen journalist who visited the site, reported seeing 12 bodies.

The military operation got attention on social media, with tweets from the region describing helicopters firing around a building near Atmeh. Flight-tracking data also suggested that multiple drones were circling the city of Sarmada and the village of Salwah just north of there in Idlib province.

The clandestine operation came as the so-called Islamic State group was appearing to try to stage a comeback after its effort to establish a caliphate failed in 2019, following several years of fighting in Syria and Iraq.

In recent weeks and months, the group has launched a series of attacks in the region, including a 10-day assault late last month to seize a prison in north-eastern Syria.

A US-backed Kurdish-led force said on Monday that the Gweiran prison, also known as al-Sinaa prison, is now fully under its control. The Syrian Democratic Forces said more than 120 of their fighters and prison workers died in the effort to thwart the IS plot.

The prison houses at least 3,000 Islamic State group detainees.

The attempted prison break was the biggest military operation by the extremist group since IS was defeated and members scattered to havens in 2019. The US-led coalition carried out air strikes and deployed American personnel to the prison area to help the Kurdish forces.

The US-led coalition has targeted high-profile militants on several occasions in recent years, aiming to disrupt what US officials say is a secretive cell known as the Khorasan group that is planning external attacks.

A US air strike killed al Qaida’s second in command, former bin Laden aide Abu al-Kheir al-Masri, in Syria earlier this year.

Residents and activists in the area described the overnight raid in Idlib as the biggest operation since the October 2019 killing of IS group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

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