The raid also raises the question of whether the U.S. will undertake more ground operations in Syria. The White House’s proposed authorization for the use of military force against ISIS, which has not been approved by Congress but can be interpreted as the administration’s self-imposed rules of engagement, specifies that it does not allow for “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” That rules out a permanent Iraq or Afghanistan–style occupation but the word “enduring” is in there to allow for operations just like this one: quick in-and-out special forces raids to target specific ISIS members or rescue hostages.
Early in the war against ISIS, the U.S. effort was hampered by a lack of on-the-ground intelligence from within Syria. The Abu Sayyaf raid could be a sign that the level of information is increasing, which could lead to more raids like this one, or drone strikes targeting ISIS commanders. The raid also comes at a time when, after weeks of setbacks and reports of internal strife, ISIS is on the offensive again, taking over several key sites in the city of Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s largest province, Anbar.
Abu Sayyaf was reportedly involved in managing the group’s oil infrastructure and revenue.