US and 'Partners' Launch Airstrikes on Syria
September 23, 2014
RT News & Al Jazeera America & Michael Pizzi / Al Jazeera America
In what can legally be called an "act of war," the US military and its partner nations from the anti-ISIS coalition have launched the first attacks on Islamic State targets in Syria, the Pentagon has confirmed. Airstrikes against Islamic State targets are currently underway in Syria, according to a Pentagon official. The strikes reportedly involve a mix of fighter, bomber, and tomahawk land attack missiles.
US and 'Partners' Launch Airstrikes on ISIS Targets in Syria
(September 23, 2014) -- The US military and partner nations from the anti-ISIS coalition have launched the first attacks on Islamic State targets in Syria, the Pentagon has confirmed. Airstrikes against Islamic State targets are currently underway in Syria, according to a Pentagon official. The strikes reportedly involve a mix of fighter, bomber, and tomahawk land attack missiles.
"I can confirm that US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL (ISIS/IS) terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles," Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.
Rear Adm. John Kirby ✔ @PentagonPresSec
US military & partner nation forces have begun striking ISIL targets in Syria using mix of fighters, bombers and Tomahawk missiles.
"The decision to conduct theses strikes was made earlier today by the US Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. We will provide more details later as operationally appropriate," he added.
According to NBC News, the US military is planning to attack up to 20 targets in Syria, including "training sites, headquarters of Sunni fighters and troop encampments."
A US official told ABC News that up to 20 locations have been targeted in the airstrikes in and around Raqqa. Tomahawk missiles have been fired from at least one ship in the Red Sea. The source also said that Arab nations participating in the airstrikes will be dropping bombs.
According to Jonathan Karl, chief White House correspondent for ABC News, five Arab nations are taking part in the first round of airstrikes in Syria: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. A US official speaking to Reuters confirmed the participation of Arab partners in the attack, but refused to specify who those partners were.
CENTCOM says the decision to conduct airstrikes was made under authorization granted by the US president.
US Central Command @CENTCOM
The decision to conduct these strikes was made earlier today by CENTCOM commander under authorization granted him by the president.
The Pentagon will not provide further details on the operation "until later," according to Reuters.
US Central Command @CENTCOM
US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria.
US Central Command @CENTCOM
Given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time.
The attack follows President Obama's speech earlier this month, during which he said that the US was prepared to "conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes" against Islamic State terrorists "wherever they are."
"That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL (ISIS/IS) in Syria as well as Iraq," Obama said on September 10. The US military has already carried out over 200 strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq.
Last Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel confirmed that the US Central Command has a plan to take "targeted actions against ISIS safe havens in Syria," including striking infrastructure. The US will also train and equip 5,000 members of the Syrian opposition to fight militants from IS. The so-called 'moderate' opposition is seen by the US as a legitimate power in Syria since the Assad government has long lost all its legitimacy, according to US officials.
More than 40 nations have said they will participate in the anti-Islamic State crusade, with more than 30 nations offering military support, according to Hagel.
The Syrian government was willing to cooperate in coordinating strikes on Islamic jihadists, which the country has been battling for over three years, but US officials rejected any possibility of such cooperation. Any strikes on Syrian soil without Damascus' consent will be considered an act of aggression, Syria has warned.
Washington should respect the sovereignty of Syria in its attempts to deal with the Islamic State, Russia has warned repeatedly. Moscow previously expressed concern that US airstrikes may target not only the Islamic State, but also government forces loyal to President Assad.
In a telephone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that airstrike
Pentagon: US and 'Partner Nations'
Launch Airstrikes in Syria against ISIL
Fighters, bombers and cruise missiles involved in effort that comes after coalition formed to confront the armed group
Al Jazeera America
(September 23, 2014) -- The United States and partner nations carried out their first airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria early Tuesday, the Pentagon said, in ongoing operations likely to mark the opening of a new and far more complicated front in the battle against the armed group.
"I can confirm that US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles," Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.
"Given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time," he said. "The decision to conduct these strikes was made earlier today by the US Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief. We will provide more details later as operationally appropriate."
Syria's foreign ministry says the US informed the Damascus envoy to the United Nations before launching airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Syria.
Syrian state media carried a brief statement from the foreign ministry early on Tuesday, saying that "the American side informed Syria's permanent envoy to the U.N. that strikes will be launched against the Daesh terrorist organization in Raqqa."
The statement used an Arabic name referring to ISIL. The city of Raqqa is the group's self-declared capital in Syria. The statement was the first official reaction to the strikes from Damascus.
The strikes were part of the expanded military campaign that President Barack Obama authorized nearly two weeks ago in order to disrupt and destroy the Islamic State group, which has slaughtered thousands of people, beheaded two American journalists and captured large swaths of Syria and northern and western Iraq.
US officials said the airstrikes began around 8:30 p.m. EDT. Senior military and State Department officials told Al Jazeers they were conducted by the US, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
The first wave of strikes finished about 90 minutes later, but the operation was expected to continue for several more hours, according to one US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly by name about an ongoing mission.
Some of the airstrikes were against Raqqa in northeastern Syria. Military officials have said the US would target the group's command and control centers, re-supply facilities, training camps and other key logistical sites.
Syrian activists reported several airstrikes on ISIL targets in Raqqa. One Raqqa-based activist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the airstrikes lit the night sky over the city, and reported a power cut that lasted for two hours.
An anti-ISIL media collective called "Raqqa is being silently slaughtered" said among the targets were buildings used as the group's headquarters, and the Brigade 93, a Syrian army base that ISIL recently seized. Other airstrikes targeted the town of Tabqa and Tel Abyad in Raqqa province, it said. Their claims could not be independently verified however reports on social media stated that areas of Raqqa were hit.
"We will be prepared to strike ISIL targets in Syria that degrade ISIL's capabilities," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators last week, using one of the acronyms for the group that is also known as ISIS and Islamic State. "This won't look like a shock-and-awe campaign, because that's simply not how ISIL is organized, but it will be a persistent and sustainable campaign.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the plan "includes targeted actions against ISIL safe havens in Syria, including its command and control logistics capabilities and infrastructure." He said he and Dempsey approved the plan.
The US military has been launching targeted airstrikes in Iraq since August, focusing specifically on attacks to protect US interests and personnel, assist Iraqi refugees and secure critical infrastructure. Last week, the US began going after ISIL targets across Iraq, including enemy fighters, outposts, equipment and weapons.
The US has also been increasing its surveillance flights over Syria, getting better intelligence on potential targets and militant movements. None of Monday's airstrikes were from drones.
The attacks in Syria appeared to be part of a broader campaign than the one undertaken across the border in northern Iraq, Al Jazeera's Sue Turton reported from Iraq. The strikes come two weeks after the US formed a coalition to confront ISIL, which has taken over large areas of Syria and Iraq and declared a "caliphate."
At a conference on Sept. 11 with Secretary of State John Kerry, key Arab allies promised they would "do their share" to fight the Islamic State militants. The Obama administration, which at a NATO meeting in Wales earlier this month also got commitments from European allies as well as Canada and Australia, has insisted that the fight against ISIL could not be the United States' fight alone. France launched its first attacks on ISIL in Iraq last week, but gave no indication it would expand its campaign into Syria.
President Barack Obama said on Sept. 10 that the expanded campaign would ultimately destroy ISIL. Tuesday's airstrikes also come a day after ISIL's spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, called on supporters of the group to attack foreigners wherever they are.
Al Jazeera and wire services
Anti-ISIL Coalition Drags Feet
As US Struggles to Secure Sunni Partners
In Paris more than 30 countries make vague commitments to military action in Iraq but not in Syria
Michael Pizzi / Al Jazeera America
(September 15, 2014) -- Diplomats from the United States, European Union, and the Arab League said on Monday they were committed to taking military action against the Islamic State (ISIL) insurgency in Iraq, but their silence on what to do about ISIL in the group's home base of Syria suggested the US-led "united front" was still hitting snags.
Compounding that dilemma is the absence of firm commitments from crucial Sunni allies in the region about who will take an active role in military strikes, something President Barack Obama had said would underpin any US military action against the extremist-led insurgency.
At a meeting in Paris on Monday, delegates from over 30 countries said in a vaguely worded communiqué they were "committed to supporting the new Iraqi government in its fight against [ISIL] by any means necessary, including appropriate military assistance."
But there was no mention at all of Syria, the more politically complicated arena in the fight against ISIL. And with the exception of France, which has sent fighter jets on a reconnaissance mission to Iraq, none of the countries meeting in Paris has publicly agreed yet to join in airstrikes against the insurgents in either country.
Foot-dragging from the anti-ISIL coalition casts further doubt on President Barack Obama's promise to a war-weary American public that the US will secure the active support of US allies, especially the region's Sunni powers -- especially Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Washington, analysts say, would like to avoid the pitfalls of the last US war in Iraq, which is seen as contributing to the current chaos.
"Ultimately this is a fight within Islam, within Sunni Islam," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough told Fox News over the weekend. "We'll build, we'll lead, we'll undergird, and we'll strengthen that coalition. But, ultimately, they're going to help us beat them on the ground."
The US does not believe that Sunni Arab states alone hold the answer to the Sunni problem of ISIL, said Faysal Itani, a fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center in Washington, D.C. "They don't, and in fact, Sunni Arab states have contributed to this problem," he said. "What the US wants is diplomatic cover to what will be a very sensitive campaign, which could be seen as targeting Sunnis."
Progress has been slow on that front in large part because the region's Sunni powers are disinclined to help wipe out extremists who threaten to destabilize their region if it will undermine their greater strategic interests -- against the Syrian regime and its foremost backer, Iran.
Even in Iraq, where those interests are more or less aligned in the short term, US efforts have been hampered by varying levels of commitment to the problem, and about questions of which ground forces to partner with in such a sectarian landscape.
The road climbs steeply uphill in Syria, where countries like Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are even more concerned than the US that strikes against ISIL will inevitably bolster President Bashar al-Assad. Those states have pleaded with Washington to strike the Syrian regime since long before ISIL consolidated control over one-third of Syria and staged its astonishing takeover of huge swathes of Sunni territory in Iraq this summer.
The US is finally acquiescing to calls for military intervention in Syria – but the campaign Washington envisages might have exactly the opposite impact to what its Sunni allies wanted. In Iraq, hardline Shia militias are likely to push the front line against ISIL on the ground; in Syria, barring a dramatic reversal in US policy, the ground forces that retake ISIL territory could be the Syrian army. Hence the apparent ambivalence.
Turkey, perhaps the most critical Sunni state to any US-led effort, remains unwilling to take an active role in any action that would turn Syrian land over to the regime. For years, the Turkish government has been accused of turning a blind eye as extremist fighters from ISIL and the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, stream across its porous border with Syria. Those groups, Ankara apparently believed, were a necessary evil in the fight against Assad.
While it has changed course on that policy, Turkey is also wary that clearing ISIL-held territory in Iraq will hasten Kurdish separatism in that country as well as across the border in its own Kurdish region. ISIL, meanwhile, is holding 50 Turkish diplomats hostage, putting Ankara in a very delicate position.
Likewise, Qatar, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on a visit on Sunday to discuss the ISIL threat, has also emphasized that the US and its allies must not lose sight of their mutual professed desire to see the Assad regime fall.
"Terrorism is not just beheading -- it is that, and it is ugly -- but it is also throwing barrel bombs at women and children," Qatar's foreign minister, Khaled al-Attiyah, told the Financial Times, referring to the Syrian regime's use of the internationally prohibited weapon. "We have to be clear and not derailed from the right track," he said.
The Obama administration, however, has no intention of forcibly overthrowing Assad and instead has thrown its support behind Syria's so-called "moderate" rebels, the weakest faction on the ground in Syria. But it has been unwilling to front the huge sums of money or heavy artillery required to actually shift the military balance in their favor, to the chagrin of its Sunni allies.
In a commentary for the New Republic, Frederic Hof, the State Department's former head of Syria policy, said Obama needed to ensure Assad went the way of Iraq's hardline Shia ex-prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, if the coalition has any hope of eradicating ISIL. Ousting Maliki, whose sectarian policies alienated Iraq's Sunni minority, paved the way for a more representative government in Baghdad, which was trumpeted as a "cornerstone" of the anti-ISIL campaign. Through his brutal crackdown on Syria's largely Sunni uprising, Assad "is the face of Islamic State recruitment around the world," Hof wrote.
The White House, however, has hinted that containing the extremist threat -- as Obama says the US has "successfully" done in Somalia and Yemen -- is a more realistic goal than eliminating it altogether. That strategy has the advantage of only requiring the region's power players to briefly align against an insurgency that has effectively declared war on the entire region.
Such an alignment could even include Iran, which unlike its Sunni rivals has already provided substantial military support for the Shia-led Iraqi government as it combats ISIL. Though Tehran was not invited to the Paris meetings, Kerry made a point on Monday of not ruling out cooperation with it in the future.
As long as the US reins in its fiercely anti-Assad allies, and continues to skirt around direct confrontation with the Syrian army, even Iran might have no choice but to allow the Western and Sunni coalition to carry out strikes in sovereign Syrian territory.
"They'll make noises, but at the end of the day, what are they going to do?" Itani said. "They can't take on ISIL alone."
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