In the continuing series of US drone airstrikes in Syria, Al-Qaedah senior deputy Abu Al-Khayr Al-Masri, killed on the 26th of February 2017 near Mastuma in the province of Idlib. In recent weeks there has been a noticeable acceleration in US airstrikes against the terrorist designated opposition group previously known as Jabhat Nusra or Jabhat Fath Shaam. Critics have pointed out that the drone campaign has been more intense since the group broke ties with Al-Qaedah, and most notably right after the failed merger attempts with Ahraar Shaam.
The list of those killed in drone attacks in recent weeks have been concentrated on Jabhat Nusra or Jabhat Fath Shaam leaders, however it has not been limited to them. Among the killed were leaders like Abu Firas Suri, Abu Umar Saraqib, Abu Farj Masri, Abu Hassan Taftanaz and Abu Yusuf Al-Ansari, including twenty-five fighters from Jabhat Fath Shaam. In another incident, US airstrikes killed Abu Anas Masri and Abu Ikrimah Tunisi including ten to fifteen fighters from Jabhat Fath Shaam. In the most fatal of US airstrikes, more than a hundred fighters were killed as a shared military base of Jabhat Fath Shaam and Harakt Nurdin Zinki was hit in Shaykh Sulayman rural Western Aleppo.
However there have been airstrikes against key figures from other groups as well, like Abu Ibrahim Jazaairi, one of the previous leaders of Jund Al-Aqsa, who was bombed in his car in rural Latakiyah in May 2015. These US airstrikes have even targeted key figures which were known to be independent in Syria, like one of the several Afghan veterans in Syria Abu Abdullah Al-Muhajir or the independent Rifa’ee Ahmad Taha, the previous leader of Al-Jamah Al-Islamiyah in Egypt, as he succeeded the recently deceased cleric Umar Abdurahmaan. Rather these US airstrikes even killed Abu Hani Masri who fought in the military wing of Ahraar Shaam, even though it is considered as one of the moderate groups in Syria.
These airstrikes appear to be aimed at key figures with certain military experience which they gained particularly in Afghanistan during the Afghan-Soviet war; regardless of group or faction affiliation in Syria.
It should be highlighted that these US airstrikes have excluding the countless Shia militias and the regime forces who have been working together since 2012 to kill more than a half million Syrians. Although the regime itself is not designated as a terrorist regime, the Lebanese based group Hizbullah who has been aiding and abetting the regime and is on the US Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations since 1997, yet we have not seen any US military action against them as they roam freely in Syria. It should be noted that these selective US airstrikes aid and prolong the existence of the Assad regime, as they are exclusively aimed against (key figures in) Syrian opposition groups.
Abu Al-Khayr Masri played an important role in the increased unity between factions who have recently joined the new group Hayat Tahreer Sham. It was Abu Al-Khayr who gave the green light for Jabhat Nusra to break their ties with Al-Qaedah, saying “The stage which the Ummah has reached in terms of the Jihad spreading and entering the Muslim community and shifting from the understanding of an elitist Jihad to the Jihad of a nation, should not be held back by group-thinking or an organization. Rather the organizations and groups should be a facilitation of gathering and mobilization; not division and separation. These efforts must be headed towards a future stage that establishes an entity for the Sunnis which represents their demands and requests for their rights.”