US Hits ISIS, Al-Qaida In Syria

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The United States air attack on Islamist groups in northern Syria used roughly 150 missiles and bombs to target a variety of jihadi sites used for weapons storage, training and command.

The airstrikes hit the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria almost three years after President Barack Obama pulled the last U.S. ground force out of neighboring Iraq. That withdrawal policy helped ISIS grow in power.

The strikes also come one year after Obama said he would direct airstrikes against Syria’s dictatorial government for its use of chemical weapons in its life-and-death struggle with the jihadi groups. Obama withdrew his threat a few days later, amid public opposition. Obama’s overnight attacks likely will help Syria’s government win the civil war.

Obama is expected to make a statement about the overnight airstrikes at 10 a.m. Eastern.

Obama did not seek approval from the U.S. Congress — or even from the United Nations — before attacking targets in the independent country of Syria. In contrast, President George W. Bush won congressional approval for his intervention in Iraq, which removed the country’s minority dictator, Saddam Hussein.

“The [U.S.] strikes destroyed or damaged multiple ISIL targets in the vicinity of the towns of Ar Raqqah in north central Syria, Dayr az Zawr and Abu Kamal in eastern Syria and Al Hasakah in northeastern Syria,” said a Pentagon press release.

“The targets included ISIL fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles,” the news release said.

The airstrikes included 47 sea-launched cruise missiles, which carry a large warhead. The U.S. also deployed naval F/A-18s and U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers — each of which can carry many guided bombs — plus F-22 fighter jets, which shielded the bombers from interference by the weak Syrian air force.

Five Arab countries took part in the overnight operation, but only three dropped bombs or missiles. The five countries were Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. also attacked eight targets occupied by an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, dubbed the “Khorasan Group,” after the Islamic name for the region that stretches to northeast of Iran.

“The United States also took action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qaida veterans,” said the Pentagon statement.

“The group has established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations,” the release said.

The Khorasan Group is based west of the Syrian town of Aleppo. The targets were “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities,” said the Pentagon statement.

The strikes are risky move for the president, who needs to win electoral support from anti-war progressives and security-minded swing-voters in November, if he is to keep a Democratic majority in the Senate.

There’s broad public support for air attacks on ISIS, partly because ISIS has killed many Arabs — and two U.S. journalists — in recent weeks.

But the airstrikes also mean that Obama is temporarily allied with Iran and its allies in Syria and Iraq, all of whom regard ISIS as a mortal enemy.

Since 1979, Iran has been attacking U.S. soldiers and civilians. From roughly 2006 to 2011, Iranian-supplied weapons killed hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq, for example.

U.S. officials warned the Syrian government about the upcoming strikes a few hours prior to the attacks.

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