U.S.-led coalition strikes ISIS in Syria
The United States has begun airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria, U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
“U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against [ISIS] terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary.
U.S. Central Command said Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had either participated in or supported the strikes, without elaborating.
The operation has so far killed 20 ISIS militants and eight civilians, including three children, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“More than 20 members of ISIS were killed in strikes on two of the organization’s positions in Raqa province. The strikes completely destroyed the two positions as well as vehicles stationed there,” the monitoring group said.
The SOHR added that the Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing, had also been struck, with 50 members killed.
U.S. officials said the airstrikes began around 0030 GMT.
The UK is yet to decide whether to join the airstrikes, said a spokeswoman at the Ministry of Defence, adding that discussions were ongoing.
Jordan confirmed that it had joined the operation, saying its air force had bombed “a number of targets that belong to some terrorist groups that sought to commit terrorist acts inside Jordan,” Reuters reported.
NATO said it was not involved in the U.S.-led strikes.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry said it was willing to work with any international effort to fight terrorism.
The ministry had earlier said Damascus was informed by Washington about imminent airstrikes, although the latter denied this.
The Syrian government said it would continue to attack ISIS in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor, areas of eastern and northern Syria that were hit in the U.S.-led airstrikes on Tuesday.
Damascus said coordination with the Iraqi government was continuing at its “highest levels.”
The opposition Syrian National Coalition welcomed the U.S.-led strikes, but urged sustained pressure on President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The strikes followed an urgent appeal for action made by SNC President Hadi al-Bahra “to avert catastrophe.”
He added: “Every day that passes without airstrikes in Syria allows ISIS the opportunity for more growth and more terror.”
Military officials said Washington would target militants’ command and control centers, re-supply facilities, training camps and other key logistical sites, the Associated Press reported.
“We will be prepared to strike [ISIS] targets in Syria that degrade [its] capabilities,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told senators last week.
“This won’t look like a shock-and-awe campaign, because that’s simply not how [ISIS] is organized, but it will be a persistent and sustainable campaign,” he said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the plan “includes targeted actions against [ISIS] safe havens in Syria, including its command and control logistics capabilities and infrastructure.” He said Dempsey and he approved the plan.
Washington has been increasing its surveillance flights over Syria to gather intelligence on potential targets and militant movements.
Military leaders have said about two-thirds of the estimated 31,000 ISIS fighters are in Syria.
U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed to go after ISIS militants wherever they may be.
His military and defense leaders told Congress last week that airstrikes in Syria were meant to disrupt the group’s momentum and provide time for Washington and allies to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.
The U.S. military has been launching airstrikes in Iraq since August, focusing on protecting American interests and personnel, assisting Iraqi refugees and securing critical infrastructure.
Last week, as part of the newly expanded campaign, Washington began going after militant targets across Iraq, including enemy fighters, outposts, equipment and weapons.
To date, U.S. fighter aircraft, bombers and drones have launched about 190 airstrikes in Iraq.
Congress passed legislation last week authorizing the military to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels.
Obama signed the bill into law on Friday, providing $500 million for the training of about 5,000 rebels over the coming year.
U.S. leaders have been trying to build a broad international coalition, including Arab countries, to go after ISIS and help train and equip Iraqi security forces and Syrian rebels.
ISIS, meanwhile, has threatened retribution. Spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani said fighters were ready to battle the U.S.-led coalition, and called for attacks at home and abroad.