US mil spox: No confirmation Baghdadi has been killed //US watching Iranian-backed forces "carefully
By Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News Producer
A top US military spokesman based in Baghdad said Wednesday that he could not confirm that the head of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been killed in a recent US airstrike.
“I can't confirm one way or another. We don't know for sure,” said Col. Christopher Garver during a press briefing. Garver said there were no US airstrikes in Raqqa on June 10, the day and location where multiple reports said the strike took place. Garver said there were “two small strikes” the next day in Raqqa, however.
“We've been targeting senior leaders of [ISIS] and if we've got an opportunity to get him, we would take it,” said Garver.
There is currently a $25 million bounty on Baghdadi’s head.
Meanwhile Iraqi forces are having a tough time pushing into the heart of the largest concentration of ISIS fighters in western Iraq near Baghdad.
Iraqi forces are now inside the “southern edge” of Fallujah, located 45 miles west of the Iraqi capital, said Garver.
“The fighting remains intense inside the city,” Col. Christopher Garver told reporters during a press briefing Wednesday. He said while Iraqi forces are inside Fallujah, they have not yet reached the center of the city.
In the past week, US jets have conducted 19 airstrikes in and around Fallujah, he said.
“We have hit tactical units and fighters, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade teams, mortar systems, recoil-less rifles, air artillery pieces, and Daesh vehicles,” said Garver describing the targets.
Garver said 40,000 Iraqi civilians have evacuated Fallujah.
When asked by Fox News about Iranian-backed Shia militias carrying out reprisal killings against Sunni Iraqi citizens fleeing Fallujah, Garver could not confirm the reports.
“We have not seen that specifically,” he said.
But he acknowledged such killings between Iranian-backed forces, some of whom killed American troops in the past decade in Iraq, has occurred recently in the ISIS fight around Tikrit.
“Clearly, it is a problem, something we're going to watch carefully,” said Garver.
Photos of Iran’s Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani as well as his deputy Abu Mahdi al Muhandis have surfaced on social media showing the Iranian generals charged leading Shia militias in the Fallujah battle.
Last week, Iraq’s prime minister said Soleimani was serving in Iraq as an invited guest of his government.
Col. Garver said the US Army Apache strike earlier this week against an ISIS car bomb 50 miles south of Mosul was approved by the Iraqi government before the strike.
Garver said the Apaches are located at various locations inside Iraq, but would not give a specific location when asked if they had been moved to support the Mosul operation.
Garver said there have been 50 airstrikes in northern Iraq in the past week.
In Syria, Garver said the US-led coalition has conducted 73 strikes in Syria supporting an operation to liberate the ISIS-held town of Manbij near Syria’s border with Turkey, seen as a key logistics hub for ISIS to ferrying troops and supplies across the border.