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Airstrikes Move To Syria, Target More Than Just ISIS

A handout picture released by the U.S. Navy shows the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) launching a Tomahawk cruise missile against Islamic State targets in Syria on Tuesday.
Eric Garst/U.S. Navy/Handout EPA/Landov
A handout picture released by the U.S. Navy shows the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) launching a Tomahawk cruise missile against Islamic State targets in Syria on Tuesday.

In a major escalation of the air campaign against Islamic extremist groups, for the first time the U.S. and five Arab allies jointly hit targets inside Syria.

The New York Times says: "The intensity of the attacks struck a fierce opening blow against the jihadists of the Islamic State, scattering its forces and damaging the network of facilities it has built in Syria that helped fuel its seizure of a large part of Iraq this year."

Who Took Part?


Besides the U.S., the Pentagon says Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates "participated in or supported" operations against targets associated with the self-declared Islamic State.

On Morning Edition, NPR's Tom Bowman reports that Syria has said it received a letter from Secretary of State John Kerry via Iraq's foreign minister informing Damascus that the U.S. and its allies planned to strike inside Syria.

Who Was Targeted?

-- Islamic State in its Syrian-based headquarters of Raqqa

-- The Al-Qaida affiliated Nusra Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra, in northwest Syria


-- A shadowy group known as Khorasan that the U.S. says is planning an imminent attack against the United States and Western interests.

NPR's Deborah Amos tells Morning Edition that Islamic State militants, also known as ISIS or ISIL, were a major focus of the attacks, which the Pentagon said "employed 47 [Tomahawk cruise missiles] launched from USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea operating from international waters in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf, as well as U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter, remotely piloted and bomber aircraft deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations."

According to Deborah: "What is striking about this air campaign is that it was expanded to include the Nusra Front.

"Those strikes took place in northwest Syria. The Nusra Front is an al-Qaida affiliate and has been at odds with ISIS. In fact, some of al-Nusra's fighters have been at war on the ground with ISIS, joining with more moderate groups against them."

Tom says not much is known about the Khorasan group: "The Pentagon says they took this action to disrupt an imminent attack plotting against the United States by this group that's made up of seasoned al-Qaida veterans. There were eight strikes around Aleppo targeting this group. [The Pentagon says] it had training camps, explosives and munitions productions facility, communications building and also command and control facilities."

The U.S. reportedly conducted the strikes against the group on its own.

An unnamed U.S. official tells The New York Times that the Khorasan group is led by "Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Qaeda operative who, according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched." The Times says:

"There is almost no public information about the Khorasan group, which was described by several intelligence, law enforcement and military officials as being made up of Qaeda operatives from across the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. Members of the cell are said to be particularly interested in devising terror plots using concealed explosives. It is unclear who, besides Mr. Fadhli, is part of the Khorasan group."

The Wall Street Journal reports: "So far, more than a dozen airstrikes have hit Islamic State military targets and administrative buildings in Aleppo and Raqqa provinces in the north as well as al Qaeda's official arm in the country, al Nusra Front in the northwestern city of Idlib, the opposition said."

What are the consequences?

Reuters, quotes a resident in Raqqa as saying there is an "exodus" from the city in the wake of the bombardment. "It started in the early hours of the day after the strikes. People are fleeing towards the countryside," the resident tells Reuters.

The participation of the partners "gives the operation some legitimacy – more legitimacy in the region because Arab governments took part. There [are] political optics about this operation put together in Washington," Deborah says, adding that the agreement to participate "changes the stakes" for the Arab partners.

The BBC's Security correspondent Frank Gardner speculates says: "Islamic State will be enraged by this - it has no effective military answers to US air power - so those Arab countries that supported or took part in the action may well now be bracing themselves for possible reprisals."

Speaking on MSNBC, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby, says the U.S. "is still assessing the effectiveness of these strikes."

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