WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 (UPI) — U.S. officials expressed serious doubt Wednesday about a claim from Russia’s military that one of its bombers killed Islamic State spokesman and plotter Abu Muhammad al-Adnani near battle-torn Aleppo this week.
Moscow’s defense ministry made the claim online Wednesday, saying al-Adnani was one of up to 40 Islamic State militants killed in the north Syria city by a Russian Su-34 bomber.
“According to reports confirmed by several intelligence channels, field commander Abu Mukhammad al-Adnani, better known as ‘the official spokesperson’ of the international terrorist group Islamic State, was among the liquidated terrorists,” Russia’s government-owned TASS news agency reported Wednesday, citing defense ministry officials.
The terror group announced al-Adnani’s death via its official news service, Amaq, on Tuesday.
The Pentagon, however, scoffed Wednesday at Moscow’s claim of responsibility — and pointed out that the Kremlin’s taking credit for al-Adnani’s death makes no strategic or logistical sense.
“We have no information to support Russia’s claim that they carried out a strike against Adnani,” U.S. Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook said during a Pentagon briefing. “From the start, Russia has spent most of its time in its military campaign propping up the [Bashar] Assad regime. It has not devoted much, if any, effort targeting ISIL’s leadership. At the same time, we have not seen the Russian military campaign use precision weaponry on a regular basis.”
“I’m not going to wager a guess as to why they might have a motive to engage in this and to discuss this, and maybe it’s just a misunderstanding on their part.”
Cook said there isn’t even information to suggest Russian planes were conducting strikes anywhere in the vicinity where al-Adnani was hit.
“I know what ISIL itself has said. I know what the Russians have said,” he continued. “We don’t trust — we are not going to be satisfied simply to trust ISIL and the Russians on this.”
After the operative’s death was announced Tuesday, the Pentagon said it was U.S.-led coalition forces that targeted al-Adnani with a “precision strike” near Al-Bab, a north Syrian town near Aleppo. Wednesday, Cook reiterated that claim and said the terror spokesman was targeted as he rode in a convoy.
“We are still assessing the results of that strike,” he said.
“It would be laughable but for the very real humanitarian suffering Russia has inflicted,” a U.S. defense official said of Russia’s claim. “We stand by the statement we made yesterday. We conducted a strike that targeted al-Adnani.”
Al-Adnani was viewed by the Pentagon as a high value target and possibly the most likely successor to lead the Islamic State militant group in the event its current chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed. The State Department had offered a $5 million reward for his capture.