US-led forces have killed one of the most important leaders of al-Qaida in Iraq, a Tunisian believed to be connected to the kidnapping and killings last summer of American soldiers, a top commander said Friday.
Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson said the death of the suspected terrorist and recent similar operations have left the organization in Iraq fractured.
"Abu Usama al-Tunisi was one of the most senior leaders ... the emir of foreign terrorists in Iraq and part of the inner leadership circle," Anderson said.
Al-Tunisi was a leader in helping bring foreign terrorists into the country and his death "is a key loss" to al-Qaida leadership there, Anderson told a Pentagon news conference via videoconference from Baghdad.
"He operated in Yusufiyah, southwest of Baghdad, since the Second Battle of Fallujah in November '04 and became the overall emir of Yusufiyah in the summer of '06," Anderson said.
"His group was responsible for kidnapping our American soldiers in June 2006," Anderson said.
He did not name the soldiers and Pentagon officials said they did not immediately know whom he was referring to. But three US soldiers were killed that month in an ambush-kidnapping that happened while they were guarding a bridge.
Spc. David J. Babineau was killed at a river checkpoint south of Baghdad on June 16, 2006, and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker were abducted. The mutilated bodies of the kidnapped soldiers were found three days later, tied together and booby-trapped with bombs.
Anderson said recent coalition operations also have helped cut in half the previous flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, which had been at about 60 to 80 a month.
He credited the work of the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement and US teams.
Commanders have said previously that the increase in troops ordered by President George W. Bush in January - and the increased operations that followed - have pushed militants into the remote parts of the north and south of the country. Additional operations have been going after those pockets of fighters.
"We're having great success in isolating these pockets," Anderson said.
"They are very broken up, very unable to mass, and conducting very isolated operations," he said.