U.S., Arab Allies Bomb IS Jihadists in Syria, Damascus Says it was Informed about them
The United States and Arab allies launched strikes from the air and sea against Islamic State militants in Syria on Tuesday, opening a new front in the battle against the brutal jihadist group.
The U.S. Central Command said in a statement that Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had joined Washington in carrying out the strikes.
“Using a mix of fighter, bombers, remotely piloted aircraft and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles” the coalition conducted 14 strikes against IS targets in Syria, it said.
The strikes “destroyed or damaged” multiple targets in the jihadists’ northern stronghold and near the border with Iraq including IS fighter positions, training compounds, command centers and armed vehicles.
The U.S.-led air assault in Syria marked a turning point in the war against the IS group, which has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic “caliphate”.
Washington had been reluctant to intervene in Syria’s raging civil war, but was jolted into action as the jihadists captured more territory and committed widespread atrocities, including the on-camera beheadings of three Western hostages.
Syria’s opposition had pleaded for the strikes, especially after a jihadist assault on a strategic Kurdish town in northern Syria over the last week sent tens of thousands of terrified residents fleeing across the border to Turkey.
IS militants have warned the U.S.-led campaign would be met with a harsh response and an IS-linked Algerian group on Monday threatened to kill a French hostage within 24 hours if Paris did not end its participation in air strikes in Iraq.
Washington said the strikes from the sea were carried put from U.S. warships operating in the Red Sea and the Gulf and that 47 Tomahawks were fired.
U.S. air strikes killed 50 Al-Qaida militants and eight civilians, including children, in northern Syria on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Most of the 50 fighters killed in the attacks west of the second city Aleppo were foreigners, and the civilians included three children and one woman, the Britain-based monitoring group said.
The strikes came in addition to separate raids carried out by a U.S.-led coalition including Arab nations that hit the Islamic State jihadist group in north and east Syria.
In Washington, the Pentagon confirmed eight U.S. strikes against “seasoned Al-Qaida veterans” in Aleppo province.
“The United States has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned Al-Qaida veterans — sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group,” it said in a statement.
The group, it added, has “established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations”.
“These strikes were undertaken only by U.S. assets,” the statement added, unlike the strikes against IS.
The Khorasan Group is believed to refer to an initiative by Al-Qaida’s central command in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to establish a group in Syria of some of its veteran militants to focus on attacks against the West.
Its members cooperate with Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaida’s Syria affiliate, using the group’s resources and bases, according to experts.
Al-Nusra’s focus, however, has so far been on the fight against President Bashar Assad’s regime, and its members are largely Syrian citizens.
Activists against President Bashar Assad’s regime on the ground in Syria said the strikes had been targeted precisely and did not seem to have caused major civilian casualties.
“They are accurate but they were fierce, in comparison to those that were being carried out by the Assad regime,” activist Assi al-Hussein, who is in the town of Albu Kamal on the Iraqi border, told AFP via the Internet.
Abu Yusef, an activist in Raqa, said one of the strikes had hit the ex-governorate building, which IS has used as its headquarters for many months.
“The strike on the governorate building caused a big fire and explosions. We suspect it is because it was being used as a weapons depot,” the activist said.
The new strikes came less than two weeks after U.S. President Barack Obama warned that he had approved an expansion of the campaign against the IS group to include action in Syria.
Damascus said that it had been informed by Washington of the air raids prior to the action on its soil.