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Two senior ISIS commanders, including the man who oversaw the terror group’s offensive to capture the Iraqi city of Mosul, were killed in a U.S.-led coalition airstrike, the Pentagon said Friday.
Basim Muhammad Ahmad Sultan al-Bajari, the terror group’s deputy minister of war, and Hatim Talib al-Hamduni, an ISIS military commander in Mosul, were killed in the June 25 airstrike, the U.S. military said.
Al-Bajari, a former member of al Qaeda, oversaw the original offensive to capture Mosul in June of 2014, the Pentagon said.
The two ISIS figures were riding together in a car when they were killed, a senior defense official said. Al-Bajari and al-Hamdun were the only two people in the vehicle, the official said.
"Their deaths, along with strikes against other ISIL leaders in the past month, have critically degraded ISIL's leadership experience in Mosul and removed two of their most senior military members in Northern Iraq,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement.
"Removing these terrorist leaders from the battlefield shapes the environment for Iraqi forces to ultimately liberate Mosul with support from the international coalition," Cook said.
Hatim Talib al-Hamduni was an ISIS military commander in Mosul and the head of military police for the self-proclaimed Ninawa state.
Hisham Al-Hashimi, a researcher in Iraq who studies Islamic armed groups like Al-Qaeda and the ISIS, said the loss of the two commanders, especially Al-Bajar, is a significant blow for the terror group.
It is like the organization is losing its historical leadership and founders," Al-Hashimi said. "I describe the organization now as a team who lost their leaders and they do not have enough and qualified leaders to replace those who are gone."
News of the air strikes that killed the two ISIS commanders comes as Iraqi forces claim to have freed the city of Fallujah from ISIS’ grip. An Iraqi commander on June 25 declared that Iraqi city was free of ISIS forces, after a more than month-long military operation.
After ISIS was driven from the city, U.S. and Iraqi airstrikes targeted a convoy believed to be carrying ISIS fighters fleeing Fallujah, destroying more than 200 vehicles, an Iraqi official said.
A senior American defense official said the strikes may have killed as many as 240 people in 50 vehicles.