The raid targeted Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, who took over as head of the militant group on October 31, 2019, just days after leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during a US raid in the same area.
He is also known as Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla.
The operation came as IS has been trying for a resurgence, with a series of attacks in the region, including a 10-day assault late last month to seize a prison.
US special forces landed in helicopters and assaulted a house in a rebel-held corner of Syria, clashing for two hours with gunmen, witnesses said. Residents described continuous gunfire and explosions that jolted the town of Atmeh near the Turkish border, an area dotted with camps for internally displaced people from Syria’s civil war.
Biden said in a statement that he ordered the raid to “protect the American people and our allies, and make the world a safer place.” He planned to address the American public later Thursday morning.
“Thanks to the skill and bravery of our Armed Forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS,” Biden said in a statement. He said all Americans involved in the operation returned safely.
First responders at the scene, also known as the White Helmets, reported 13 people were killed, including six children and four women.
“The mission was successful,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a brief statement.
“There were no US casualties. More information will be provided as it becomes available.”
Residents said helicopters flew overhead and US forces clashed with gunmen for more than two hours around a two-story house surrounded by olive trees.
The top floor of the house was almost totally destroyed in Thursday’s raid, with the ceiling and walls knocked out.
“The first moments were terrifying, no one knew what was happening,” said Jamil el-Deddo, a resident of a nearby refugee camp.
“We were worried it could be Syrian aircraft, which brought back memories of barrel bombs that used to be dropped on us,” he added, referring to crude explosives-filled containers used by President Bashar Assad’s forces against opponents during the Syrian conflict.
Residents and activists described witnessing a large ground assault, with US forces using megaphones urging women and children to leave the area.
Omar Saleh, a resident of a nearby house, said his doors and windows started to rattle to the sound of low-flying aircraft at 1.10am local time. He then heard a man, speaking Arabic with an Iraqi or Saudi accent through a loudspeaker, urging women to surrender or leave the area.
“This went on for 45 minutes. There was no response. Then the machine gun fire erupted,” Saleh said. He said the firing continued for two hours, as aircraft circled low over the area.
Taher al-Omar, an Idlib-based activist, said he witnessed clashes between fighters and the US force. Others reported hearing at least one major explosion during the operation.
A US official said that one of the helicopters in the raid suffered a mechanical problem and had to be blown up on the ground. The US official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the military operation.
The military operation got attention on social media, with tweets from the region describing helicopters firing around the building near Atmeh.
Flight-tracking data also suggested that multiple drones were circling the city of Sarmada and the village of Salwah, just north of the raid’s location.
The US has in the past used drones to kill top al-Qaida operatives in Idlib, which at one point was home to the group’s biggest concentration of leaders since the days of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.