U.S. special ops forces launch raid in northwest Syria

Rubble surrounds a home in Syria
A home that was demolished Thursday during a U.S. raid in the village of Atmeh in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province.
(Ghaith Alsayed / Associated Press)

U.S. special forces carried out what the Pentagon said was a successful, large-scale counter-terrorism raid in northwestern Syria early Thursday. First responders at the scene reported 13 people had been killed, including six children and four women.

The operation, which residents say lasted about two hours, jolted the sleepy village near the Turkish border — an area dotted with camps for internally displaced people from Syria’s civil war. The target of the raid was not immediately clear.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a brief statement that the mission was a success. “There were no U.S. casualties. More information will be provided as it becomes available.”


Several residents told the Associated Press they saw body parts scattered near the site of the raid, a house in the village of Atmeh in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province. They spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals following the raid, which they said involved helicopters, explosions and machine-gun fire.

It was the largest raid in the province since the 2019 U.S. assault targeting the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi. Idlib is is broadly controlled by Turkey-backed fighters, but is also an Al Qaeda stronghold and home to several of its top operatives. Other militants have also found refuge in the region.

Reports on the number of dead varied. A journalist on assignment for the AP saw body parts around the house, whose upper story was almost completely leveled leaving rubble in the surrounding olive grove.

Blood could be seen on the walls and floor of the remaining structure, which contained a wrecked bedroom with a child’s wooden crib on the floor. On one damaged wall, a blue plastic swing for children was still hanging. The kitchen was blackened with fire damage.

The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense, first responders also known as the White Helmets, said 13 people were killed in shelling and clashes that ensued after U.S. 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 Pentagon provided no details on who was the target of the raid, or if any combatants or civilians on the ground were killed or injured.

Residents and activists in the area described seeing a large ground assault and U.S. forces using loudspeakers asking women and children to leave the area.

There was at least one major explosion. A U.S. official said that one of the helicopters in the raid suffered a mechanical problem and had to be blown up on the ground. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the military operation.

Using helicopters, troops for the U.S.-led coalition landed in the area and attacked a house, the Observatory said, adding that the force clashed with fighters on the ground. Taher Omar, an Idlib-based activist, also said that clashes between the fighters in the area broke out with the U.S. force.

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 Islamic State group was appearing to try to stage a comeback after its effort to establish a caliphate failed in 2019 after 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.


A U.S.-backed Kurdish-led force said Monday that the Gweiran prison, also known as 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 Islamic State plot. The prison houses at least 3,000 Islamic State detainees.

The attempted prison break was the biggest military operation by the extremist group since it was defeated and members scattered to havens in 2019. The U.S.-led coalition carried out airstrikes and deployed American personnel in Bradley fighting vehicles to the prison area to help the Kurdish forces.

At a news conference Monday, Syrian Democratic Forces commander Nowruz Ahmad said the prison assault was part of a broader plot that Islamic State had been preparing for a long time, including attacks on other neighborhoods in Hassakeh, Shaddada and areas of Dair Alzour in eastern Syria and on the Al Hol camp in the south, which houses thousands of families of Islamic State members.

Islamic State “wanted to launch a massive attack on the region, and once again to spread their terror and impose darkness on the people of the region and revive the terrorist organization once again,” Ahmad said.

The U.S.-led coalition has targeted high-profile militants on several occasions in recent years, aiming to disrupt what U.S. officials say is a secretive cell known as the Khorasan group that is planning external attacks. A U.S. airstrike killed Al Qaeda’s second in command, former Bin Laden aide Abu Kheir Masri, in Syria in 2017.