U.S.-led forces have killed 10 Islamic State leaders in airstrikes, including individuals linked to the Paris attacks, a U.S. spokesman said, dealing a double blow to the militant group after Iraqi forces ousted it from the city of Ramadi.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi planted the national flag in Ramadi after the army retook the city center from ISIS, a victory that could help vindicate his strategy for rebuilding the military after stunning defeats.
"Over the past month, we've killed 10 ISIS leadership figures with targeted airstrikes, including several external attack planners, some of whom are linked to the Paris attacks," said U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS.
One of those killed was Abdul Qader Hakim, who facilitated the militants' external operations and had links to the Paris attack network, Warren said. He was killed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Dec. 26.
Two days earlier, a coalition airstrike in Syria killed Charaffe al Mouadan, a Syria-based ISIS member with a direct link to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected ringleader of the coordinated bombings and shootings in Paris on Nov. 13 which killed 130 people, Warren said.
Mouadan was planning further attacks against the West, he added.
Air strikes on the Islamic State's leadership helped explain recent battlefield successes against the group, which also lost control of a dam on a strategic supply route near its de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria on Saturday.
"Part of those successes is attributable to the fact that the organization is losing its leadership," Warren said.
He warned, however: "It's still got fangs."
The Iraqi army's seizure of the center of Ramadi is its first major victory against the hardline Sunni Islamists that swept through a third of Iraq in 2014, and it came after months of cautious advances backed by coalition airstrikes.