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Syria raid that killed Islamic State figure is praised by U.S. lawmakers

Lawmakers hail Abu Sayyaf raid as a success but note many problems still face U.S. policy in Middle East

Lawmakers on Sunday praised the raid that killed an Islamic State official in Syria, but cautioned that the United States still faces continued turmoil in the Middle East.

Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Montana Republican who formerly commanded Navy SEAL Team 6, said that the target, known as Abu Sayyaf, “was not in the top 10” of Islamic State leadership and that his death is not “going to change the tide of what’s going on in Syria and the Middle East.”

But Zinke, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, nonetheless called the raid a “great operation” that would be “enormously helpful” to the U.S. campaign against the militant group, which controls large swaths of Syria and western and northern Iraq. Zinke was interviewed on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also heralded the “very successful mission” but criticized the Obama administration for coming up short on capture-and-interrogation operations.

“What you want to do is you want to capture people, you want to interrogate them, and you want to try to prevent the next atrocity,” McConnell said. “I wish we’d had, you know, frankly, more emphasis on capturing, detaining and interrogation than on strikes.”

The fact that Abu Sayyaf’s wife had been captured and would be interrogated was good, he said.

McConnell and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, appeared on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

Feinstein called the Syrian raid “picture perfect” but likewise lamented the failure of special forces to take Abu Sayyaf alive. “The demise of the principal, obviously, took place when the aim was to capture,” she said. Pentagon officials have said Abu Sayyaf was shot after engaging in an exchange of fire with the U.S. forces.

Feinstein said she remained concerned that Islamic State has a presence in at least 12 countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

“It is organized,” she said. “It is an impressive fighting force. It occupies territory. It runs a government. And most importantly it is evil. It annihilates in the most brutal of ways.”

She said it was important to “get very serious” about how not only to contain but also to eradicate its forces.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on the CNN program that he and other senior lawmakers had been briefed on the raid in advance.

“This is the guy that we were trying to get,” Schiff said.

The “very daring operation” in the heart of territory controlled by Islamic State militants raised questions about whether the intelligence gained was sufficient to justify the risk, Schiff said.

The Delta Force unit that carried out the Friday night raid should be applauded “unequivocally,” Schiff said, adding that hard questions still needed to be asked because of the inherent dangers of such missions.

Schiff said he did not want to understate the importance of Abu Sayyaf, who was responsible for the lucrative oil and gas operations that help fund Islamic State. The capture of Abu Sayyaf's wife may prove to be of intelligence value, as would electronic and other materials seized, he said.

Zinke said the apparent success of the raid should not distract Americans from the longer-term problems facing U.S. policy in the region. The United States still lacks a plan for achieving the administration's stated goal of seeing Syria's leader, President Bashar Assad, removed from power, he said, and Islamic State has made gains in recent days in Ramadi, a major Iraqi city. Later Sunday, the militants and Iraqi officials said the key city had fallen to Islamic State forces.

“This is going to be an enormous problem for the president as well as the next president,” Zinke said.

Twitter: @KatherineSkiba

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

4:55 p.m.: This article was updated with the fall of Ramadi.

9:04 a.m.: This article was updated with remarks by Sens. Mitch McConnell and Dianne Feinstein.

It was originally published at 8:15 a.m.

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