The CIA and U.S. Special Operations forces have launched a secret campaign to hunt terrorism suspects in Syria as part of a targeted killing program that is run separately from the broader U.S. military offensive against the Islamic State, U.S. officials said.
The CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) are flying drones over Syria in a collaboration responsible for several recent strikes against senior Islamic State operatives, the officials said. Among those killed was a British militant thought to be an architect of the terrorist group’s effort to use social media to incite attacks in the United States, the officials said.
The clandestine program represents a significant escalation of the CIA’s involvement in the war in Syria, enlisting the agency’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) against a militant group that many officials believe has eclipsed al-Qaeda as a threat.
Although the CTC has been given an expanded role in identifying and locating senior Islamic State figures, U.S. officials said the strikes are being carried out exclusively by JSOC. The officials said the program is aimed at terrorism suspects deemed “high-value targets.”