US soldiers destroy Black Hawk helicopter during raid on ISIS leader

U.S. Department of Defense

US special forces carried out an operation in Syria to kill Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of the terrorist group ISIS. The raid took place on the night of February 2, 2022, and continued into the early hours of February 3.   

Al-Qurayshi had risen to the head of ISIS in 2019, when his predecessor, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US military operation. In late January 2022, two coordinated ISIS attacks against the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi military resulted in more than a hundred casualties and raised concerns about a resurgence of the organization in the region. 

The operation to neutralize Al-Qurayshi resembled the one set up to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011, with the deployment of special forces by helicopter. This solution, while riskier for the US troops, was preferable to an air strike as it would limit civilian casualties. 

After surrounding a three-story house near the small Syrian town of Atmeh, US soldiers asked women and children to evacuate the premises. However, this was to no avail.  

A shootout ensued, lasting for about two hours, and was supported by at least one AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.  

“As our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard to the lives of his own family or others the building, he chose to blow himself up,” US President Joe Biden said during a debriefing at the White House. 

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 13 people, including four children and three women, were killed in the operation. There were no casualties among the US soldiers. 

However, reports rapidly emerged that a helicopter had crashed, with pictures and footage of the wreckage appearing on social media. The helicopter was identified as an MH-60M, a specialized assault variant flown exclusively by the US Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.  

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed in a press briefing that one helicopter was lost to a “mechanical failure” and had to be destroyed by US ground forces. 

“While there were no US casualties, one of our helicopters did suffer a mechanical failure early on in the infiltration phase of the operation,” Kirby said. “The helicopter was able to depart the target location and land at another location further away off-site. But ultimately, it was determined that further use of the helicopter was not practical, and in fact, could be dangerous. And so General McKenzie made the decision that the helicopter should be abandoned and detonated so it could be destroyed in place.” 

Once again, the resemblance with the raid that killed bin Laden is uncanny. Back then, a significantly modified MH-60 Black Hawk with upgraded stealth crash-landed in the outer courtyard of the assaulted compound, most likely after experiencing an undisclosed technical failure. The SEAL team destroyed the helicopter, though parts of the wreckage were allegedly recovered by Pakistani authorities. 

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