The US carried out a drone strike against Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in northwest Syria’s Idlib Province on Thursday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said. A UK-based war monitor said the strike killed 23 people, including six civilians.
“US Forces conducted a strike against a group of al-Qaeda in Syria senior leaders meeting near Idlib, Syria,” CENTCOM spokeswoman Major Beth Riordan said.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike hit a dinner gathering in Jakarah village near Syria’s border with Turkey. The war monitor said six civilians were killed along with 17 jihadists.
The slain are believed to be former members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the dominant al-Qaeda affiliate in Idlib that controls most of the province, formerly known as al-Nusra Front.
The observatory said some of the slain were former commanders of HTS who split with the group over the Russian-Turkish ceasefire, aligning themselves with Hurras al-Din, another al-Qaeda affiliate. The US is engaged in a drone war against Hurras al-Din in northwest Syria led by Joint Special Operations Command, with help from the CIA.
Turkey does not outright support HTS, but there have been instances of Turkish-backed militants fighting alongside the al-Qaeda affiliate, and Ankara is suspected of coordinating with the group. The US backs Turkey’s efforts in Syria, but Washington has found an enemy in Hurras al-Din to wage a drone war against.