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U.S. forces strike Syrian al Qaeda facility - Defense Department

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. forces struck an al Qaeda facility north of Idlib in Syria on Saturday in an attack aimed at the organization’s leadership, U.S. Central Command, part of the Department of Defense, said.

“This operation targeted AQ-S leaders responsible for attacks threatening U.S. citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians,” Lt. Col. Earl Brown, Central Command Chief of Media Operations, said in an emailed statement.

Brown said the destruction of the facility would further constrain al Qaeda’s ability to carry out attacks and destabilize the region.

“Northwest Syria remains a safe haven where AQ-S leaders actively coordinate terrorist activities throughout the region and in the West,” Brown said. “With our allies and partners, we will continue to target violent extremists to prevent them from using Syria as a safe haven.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes pounded bases belonging to jihadist fighters in Syria’s northwest. The UK-based monitor said the strikes, near the town of Maarat Misrin in Idlib province, killed more than 40 militants, including some commanders.

Syria’s northwest corner, which includes Idlib, is the last big chunk of the country still in rebel hands after more than eight years of war.

The dominant force in Idlib is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist alliance formerly known as the Nusra Front, which cut ties to al Qaeda in 2016. However, a wide array of factions, including Turkey-backed rebels, also have a presence.

U.S. air strikes have hit a number of Nusra commanders in northwest Syria in recent years.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, Lucia Mutikani and Idrees Ali in Washington and Khalil Ashawi in Istanbul; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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