U.S. and Arab States Bomb ISIS in Syria

Sep 23, 2014 at 5:35 AM ET

Weeks after the United States and its allies began attacking the Islamic State in Iraq, America and a coalition of Arab nations carried out long-awaited air strikes in neighboring Syria against the jihadi group, which is commonly known as ISIS.

American warplanes, flying with U.S. drones and fighter jets from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, reportedly used cruise missiles and precision bombs, among other weapons, to hit ISIS military targets in central Syria.

Those targets, according to U.S. Central Command, the group that oversees American military operations in the Middle East, included ISIS’ headquarters in Raqqa, its de facto capital, along with jihadi training camps, bases and weapons caches in the area. The coalition also reportedly hit targets in Syria’s northwestern Idlib and eastern Deir Ezzour provinces

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command said the coalition carried out 14 air strikes against ISIS militants. The U.S. and its Arab partners also carried out eight strikes against a shadowy jihadi group known as Khorasan in northwestern Syria.

The Khorasan group is allegedly made up of Al Qaeda militants, including an infamous underwear bomb maker. U.S. officials have called it a direct threat to Americans.

“The U.S. has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the U.S. and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qaeda veterans—sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group—who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations,” a spokesman for U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Analysts and ISIS supporters online pointed to a flurry of stories about Khorosan in recent days, claiming the U.S. was in fact trying to target the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

The U.S. has denied this, but analysts say that if Khorosan is indeed an Al Qaeda affiliate, Nusra may be protecting them. On Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which documents the country’s civil war using a network of on the ground sources, said coalition air strikes killed at least 50 Al Qaeda-linked Nusra fighters this morning. The human rights group also said ISIS evacuated many of its buildings and checkpoints in Syria last night.

Though a variety of photos, videos and references to civilian casualties have been circulating on social media, the human rights group has confirmed only 11 non-combatant deaths, all in the air strikes against the Al Qaeda-affiliated group.

The attacks on Tuesday came as ISIS released the second part of its multi-part video featuring British hostage John Cantlie, a journalist who has been held by the group for nearly two years and was captured alongside James Foley, the American reporter ISIS killed in August. In the latest video by the jihadi group, Cantlie warns of the U.S. being dragged into “another Vietnam” by attacking targets inside Syria.

While many anti-government activists are worried that air strikes against ISIS will help the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad in its nearly four-year fight against rebel fighters, a coalition of moderate rebels welcomed the coalition’s attack.

“Tonight, the international community has joined our fight against ISIS in Syria,” the group said in a statement. “We have called for airstrikes such as those that commenced tonight with a heavy heart and deep concern, as these strikes begin in our own homeland. We insist that utmost care is taken to avoid civilian casualties. Our people have been suffering at the hands of ISIS for over a year. And they endured unparalleled brutality from the Assad regime for three and a half years.”

Also, in an apparent face-saving move, the Syrian Foreign Ministry says it was notified beforehand of the coalition air strikes inside the country, though it remains to be seen if that was the case.

Meanwhile, in western Syria on Tuesday, in a separate incident, the Israeli government said its military used a Patriot missile to shoot down a Syrian air force fighter jet flying over the Israeli side of the disputed Golan Heights. The incident marked the first time that Israel has downed a Syrian aircraft since 1982.