CIA, US special forces launch drone campaign against ISIS leaders in Syria: Report

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The CIA and US special forces are carrying out a secret campaign using armed drones to target and kill the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leaders in Syria, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday (Sept 1).

The clandestine programme is separate from America's wider military operations against ISIS fighters, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed US officials.

Among those so far killed is Junaid Hussain, a hacker from Britain who the Pentagon said was recruiting ISIS sympathisers to carry out lone wolf attacks in the West.

Officials told the Post that the drone programme had only resulted in a handful of strikes, which are being carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CIA's main role in the operation is identifying and locating senior ISIS leaders.

The officials said the program was focusing on "high value targets".

A decision to use the CIA's Counterterrorism Centre (CTC) and JSOC in the operation reflects rising anxiety about the spread of ISIS fighters, the Post reported.

The CTC led the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and JSOC includes the elite Navy Seal team that carried out the mission to kill him in 2011.

Drone strikes are politically contentious in Washington and President Barack Obama wants the CIA to return to its core activity of spying, and away from paramilitary actions. Instead, he wants the Pentagon to take over the drone strikes.

But Senator Barbara Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has said she is not convinced the military can carry out drone strikes with the same "patience and discretion" as the CIA.