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    Dec 31, 2015

    US-led air strikes kill 10 ISIS leaders


    UNITED States-led forces have killed 10 Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leaders in air strikes, including individuals linked to the Paris attacks, a US 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 centre 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 ISIL leadership figures with targeted air strikes, including several external attack planners, some of whom are linked to the Paris attacks," said United States Army Colonel Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US-led campaign against the Islamist group also known by the acronym ISIL.

    "Others had designs on further attacking the West," he added.

    One of those killed was Abdul Qader Hakim, who facilitated the militants' external operations and had links to the Paris attack network, Col Warren said. He was killed in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Saturday.

    Two days earlier, a coalition air strike 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, Col Warren said.

    Mouadan was planning further attacks against the West, he added.

    Air strikes on ISIS' 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.

    The Iraqi army's seizure of the centre of Ramadi on Sunday is its first major victory against the hardline Sunni Islamists that swept through a third of Iraq in 2014 and came after months of cautious advances backed by coalition air strikes.

    Three mortar rounds landed about 500m from Prime Minister Abadi's location during his visit, security sources said. The prime minister was not in danger but was forced to leave the area, they said.

    He had announced the visit to Ramadi himself on Twitter and declared today a national holiday in celebration, even though security forces must still remove explosives planted throughout the city and clear out fighters in some densely built-up areas.