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ISIS No. 2 killed in US drone strike in Iraq, says White House

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(Read caption) Young boys hold rifles and Islamic State group flags as they exercise at a training camp in Tal Afar, near Mosul, in northern Iraq in a photo released on April 25, 2015, by a militant website.

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The Islamic State’s No. 2 leader was killed earlier this week during a US airstrike, the White House said Friday.

Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, also known as Hajji Mutazz, was killed on August 18 while traveling near Mosul, Iraq with ISIS's media operative, known as Abu Abdullah, US National Security spokesperson Ned Price announced in a statement.

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Mr. Hayali was in charge of ISIS operations in Iraq and a key military planner, said Mr. Price. In addition, Hayali was an ISIS Shura Council member and, as the senior deputy to the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was a primary coordinator for moving large amounts of weapons, explosives, vehicles, and people between Iraq and Syria.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, told the Associated Press that Hayali had been detained by US forces in early 2005 for his Al Qaeda connection, but was handed over to the Iraqi government a short time later. "He admitted at this time, in 2005, to being a bookkeeper for Al Qaeda in Iraq and involvement in weapons trafficking and support extremist operations," Captain Davis said.

The White House says Hayali served as ISIS's military emir in Baghdad and then as emir of Ninevah Province between 2011 and 2012.

Harleen Gambhir, a counterterrorism analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Reuters that Hayali was a lieutenant colonel in the army of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. She added that like many who later went on to form the core of the Islamic State’s leadership, Hayali was detained by US troops at the Camp Bucca detention facility in southern Iraq. According to Ms. Gambhir, it is likely that after leaving Camp Bucca he joined Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS.

News of Hayali's death presents a bit of a puzzle, as several news organizations (including the Monitor) reported his death at the end of last year, based on information from senior US administration officials, CNN reported. One official told CNN that the US may have had a wrong identification at that time.

Hayali’s death will have an adverse impact on ISIS operations, given that his influence spanned the group’s "finance, media, operations, and logistics," noted Price.

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But Seth Jones, a former Pentagon official now at the RAND Corporation, told Reuters that Hayali's death will have only a short-lived impact. He said that ISIS has demonstrated flexibility and a willingness "to move people up into positions" when high-ranking operatives are killed.

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A US official acknowledged that, but noted that Hayali’s death "removes a key figure" from the ISIS leadership and "further pierces the group’s veneer of invincibility."