The United States has announced that it has killed Abdurakhmon Uzbeki, a man who is linked to the Turkish nightclub assault that left 39 people dead, in a secretive ground force strike in Syria on April 6.
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“He was known to interact with him in various ways over time,” Thomas said regarding Uzbeki’s relationship with Baghdadi. “It was a ground operation. I think that’s all we’re willing to say about that.”
Thomas refused to go into greater detail, but he made it abundantly clear that an air strike was not responsible for Uzbeki’s death. Military officials say he was heavily involved in planning and carrying out terror attacks, including the Istanbul New Year’s attack.
According to defense officials, the ground operation was carried out by US Special Forces, but they declined to answer when asked which Special Force group took Uzbecki down.
The ground attack is a rare use of boots on the ground in Syria. For the most part, the United States military has prominently used drone strikes to hit their “high value individuals.” With recent strikes resulting in civilian casualties, a boots on the ground attack may have been planned as a safer alternative.
There are a reported 500 Special Force members in Syria mainly working as trainers and consultants for Kurdish and Arab groups that are fighting ISIS.
The main suspect in the Istanbul attack, Abdulkadir Masharipov, was arrested by Turkish police January 17 after a massive manhunt ensued.
Thomas told ABC News in a separate interview that the US has “a pretty good record of finding these folks and killing them.” This act of boots on the ground could signal the Trump administration’s willingness to do whatever it takes to defeat ISIS.