US, 4 Arab States Bomb IS Positions in Syria

US, 4 Arab States Bomb IS Positions in SyriaUS, 4 Arab States Bomb IS Positions in Syria

The United States and several Persian Gulf Arab allies launched air and missile strikes on Islamic State (IS) strongholds in Syria on Tuesday, US officials said, opening a new, far more complicated front in the battle against the militants.

“I can confirm that US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against (Islamic State) terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles,” Rear Admiral 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.”

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Bahrain were all involved, although their exact roles in the military action were unclear. Qatar played a supporting role in the air strikes, Reuters quoted the official as saying.

Another official said at least one US ship had launched surface-to-surface Tomahawk cruise missiles. Armed US drones were also used in the attacks.

The targets included Raqqa city in eastern Syria, the headquarters of Islamic State, an extremist group that has seized large expanses of territory in Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a caliphate erasing borders in the heart of the Middle East.

 Civilian Casualties

A group monitoring the war in Syria said at least 20 Islamic State fighters were killed.

The strikes also killed 30 fighters from al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and eight civilians including children, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from a network of activists on the ground, told Reuters in Beirut by phone that at least 50 air strikes had been carried out.

The strikes targeted a residential building in Aleppo province used by Nusra Front, the Britain-based organization added.

The United States said earlier on Tuesday its forces had carried out eight strikes against al Qaeda-affiliated militants west of Aleppo.

 No Coordination

Syrian state television said the United States informed Syria’s UN representative on Monday that Islamic State targets would be hit in Raqqa, which is 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Damascus.

The United States has previously stressed it would not coordinate with the government of President Bashar al-Assad in any way in its fight against Islamic State. US President Barack Obama’s position has long been that he would like to see Assad leave power.

Russia criticized the US-led airstrikes against ISIL’s positions in Syria on Tuesday, saying they should have been agreed with its ally Damascus and would fuel tension in the region.

“Any such action can be carried out only in accordance with international law,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“That implies not a formal, one-sided ‘notification’ of airstrikes but the presence of explicit consent from the government of Syria or the approval of a corresponding UN Security Council decision.”

“Attempts to achieve one’s own geopolitical goals in violation of the sovereignty of countries in the region only exacerbate tensions and further destabilize the situation,” the ministry said.

 Arab Allies

The US considers the addition of Arab allies in the attacks as crucial for the credibility of its campaign. US allies in the Middle East are skeptical of how far Washington will commit to a conflict in which nearly every country in the region has a stake.

Several Arab states have powerful air forces, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia has also already agreed to host US training of the so-called “moderate” militants.

But many Persian Gulf Arab states have been reluctant to be seen aggressively joining the US campaign, fearing in some cases reprisals by forces loyal to the Syrian government.

The strikes took place hours before Obama goes to New York for the UN General Assembly where he will try to rally more nations behind his drive to aggressively take on Islamic State.

Obama had shied away from getting involved in the conflict in Syria a year ago, seeing no positive outcome for the United States, but lately he has changed course.

General Lloyd Austin, commander of the US military’s Central Command, made the decision to conduct the strikes under authorization granted to him by Obama, Kirby said.

“We will provide more details later as operationally appropriate,” Kirby said.