WASHINGTON — The U.S. military and unidentified “partner nations” early Tuesday launched a bombing campaign against Islamist positions inside Syria, marking the first Western air raids on that country since a rebellion erupted there in 2011.
The attacks used a mix of fighters, bombers and Tomahawk missiles, Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement that was released late Monday in Washington, early Tuesday in Syria.
Syria said the United States advised it of the attacks through its ambassador to the United Nations before they took place.
Kirby did not identify the targets, but activists inside Syria said they included not only positions belonging to the Islamic State, but also bases in three provinces of its chief jihadi rival, the al Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front. U.S. officials have long worried that hitting just the Islamic State would end up empowering other entities the U.S. did not want to strengthen, including Nusra and the government of President Bashar Assad.
“The decision to conduct these strikes was made earlier today by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief,” the Kirby statement added. It was not clear when President Barack Obama gave Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, Centcom’s commander, the go-ahead for the strikes or whether the president had approved the individual targets.
The Obama administration has argued that it legally can go after the militants without congressional approval under a 2001-era authorization that was designed for al Qaida.
Word of the attacks came as the Islamic State posted the second in what it says will be a series of videos featuring British hostage John Cantlie, who was abducted in northern Syria in November 2012.
In the new video, Cantlie refers to himself as “the British citizen abandoned by his government and a long time prisoner of the Islamic State.” In the 5-minute and 55-second video, Cantlie, dressed in an orange jumpsuit similar to those worn by Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff and Briton David Haines when they were beheaded, cites former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer’s criticism of Obama administration policy in arguing that the West is embarking on a war against the Islamic State that it cannot possibly win.
The Pentagon released no other details of the Syria strikes, saying that operations were ongoing and that it would comment when “appropriate.”
News reports, citing unnamed U.S. officials, said the attacks focused on the northern city of Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, where militants have carried out beheadings and other medieval punishments meted out under their merciless interpretation of Islamic law.
Despite calls for diplomacy and peace, the United States launched airstrikes against Syria early Tuesday targeting Islamic State (or ISIS) fighters, marking the first bombing of that nation since President Barack Obama declared he had all authority needed to conduct such strikes without congressional approval.
According to U.S. Central Command, the attacks struck 14 targets and were carried out with a "mix of fighter, bomber, remotely piloted aircraft and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles." It was conducted with support from five partner Arab nations: the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 160 people were killed during Monday's attack on Syria including 31 civilians.
Claiming success, the U.S. military said that the strikes destroyed numerous targets in the vicinity of Ar Raqqah, Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal including training compounds, command and operations facilities, and armored vehicles.
However, opponents of the war were quick to reiterate that such strikes will only embolden the terrorist group and worsen the crisis in the Middle East, repeating Obama's own statement that there is "no military solution" to combating ISIS.
As Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, declared in a post following the attack: "You can’t bomb extremism out of existence."
"The U.S. bombs do not fall on 'extremism,'" Bennis continued, "they are falling on Raqqah, a 2,000 year-old Syrian city with a population of more than a quarter of a million people—men, women and children who had no say in the take-over of their city by ISIS."
"The Pentagon is bombing targets like the post office and the governor’s compound, and the likelihood of large number of civilian casualties as well as devastation of the ancient city, is almost certain," Bennis wrote, adding that the only way to counter ISIS is to shift to a broad, diplomatic approach in the region.
Also Monday, the U.S. military alone conducted eight strikes near Aleppo against targets associated with the Khorasan Group, an alleged al-Qaida offshoot. The military also continued to bomb ISIS targets in Iraq as well bringing the total number of strikes there to 194.
The U.S. military says that going forward they will continue to conduct strikes against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.
The attack comes a week after Congress backed Obama's request for $500m to train "moderate" Syrian rebels. However, the legislature deferred a vote on the war against ISIS until after November's election. The U.S. president asserts that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force against al-Qaida grants him sufficient legal authority to attack the group in Syria, despite the fact that al-Qaida itself has publicly rejected affiliation with ISIS. Critics assert that the decision to bomb Syria stands in stark violation of international law, the United Nations charter, and the War Powers Resolution in the U.S. Constitution.
As Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald pointed out in a post on Tuesday, it was just over a year ago that the Obama administration was pushing to attack the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whereas now the U.S. is bombing the enemies of the Assad regime. Critics argue that Obama's changing stance towards Assad is reflective of what they say is a confused and misguided foreign policy.
"It seems irrelevant on whom the U.S. wages war; what matters it that it be at war, always and forever," Greenwald writes.
Obama is expected to give an address on the strike on Tuesday at 10AM EST. A live stream is available to watch on the Department of Defense website.
...and here we go, again ! ! !
This photo provided by an anti-Bashar Assad activist group Edlib News Network (ENN), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian citizens checking a damaged house that they say was targeted by the coalition airstrikes, in the village of Kfar Derian, a base for the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, a rival of the Islamic State group, between the northern province of Aleppo and Idlib, Syria, Tuesday Sept. 23, 2014. Syria said Tuesday that Washington informed President Bashar Assad's government of imminent U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State group, hours before an American-led military coalition pounded the extremists' strongholds across northern and eastern Syria. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN) UNCREDITED — AP
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