WASHINGTON — The United States and Russia, which have clashed over the war in Syria, argued Wednesday over who was responsible for targeting a key Islamic State leader believed killed the day before.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon said U.S. warplanes had attacked Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the top Islamic State spokesman and strategist, in a strike in northern Syria.
Russia disputed that on Wednesday, saying its planes had targeted al-Adnani.
In response, the Pentagon said it was still assessing whether al-Adnani was killed in the airstrike, but added there was no evidence to back up the Russian claim. “We don’t have any information to support what the Russians put forward,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said.
Both Russian and U.S. aircraft operate in the skies over Syria, where they have opposing goals: Russia is backing the regime of embattled President Bashar Assad, while the U.S. is supporting Syrian rebels who want to oust Assad.
The two countries also have pledged to target Islamic State militants in Syria, but the Pentagon has complained that Russian jets also are targeting anti-Assad rebels trained by the U.S. military.
The U.S. and Russia are not cooperating on targeting, but they have agreed to communicate enough to avoid mid-air confrontations and ensure the safety of their pilots.
Al-Adnani’s death was first reported Tuesday by the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL. After the news surfaced, the Pentagon said it had targeted him with a precision strike near al-Bab, in Allepo Province, but had not confirmed he was killed in the strike.
Then the Russian Defense Ministry said it had killed Al-Adnani with an airstrike conducted by a Su-24 bomber that targeted a group of 40 militants.
Regardless of who killed Al-Adnani, his death would be a blow to the Islamic State. He was the terror group's chief spokesman and also planned terror strikes around the world.
“He has coordinated the movement of ISIL fighters, directly encouraged lone-wolf attacks on civilians and members of the military, and actively recruited new ISIL members,” Cook said in a statement.