US says attacks on Isis could last years

SHAFAQNA – Air strikes launched by the US and Arab allies against Islamists in Syria were the “beginnings of a sustained campaign” that could last years, the Pentagon said on Tuesday. Lieutenant General William Mayville, the director of operations for the Pentagon, said the overnight strikes hit vehicles, training camps and command and control centres controlled by fighters from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis.

The attacks, conducted with several Arab states, were, he said, the start of a “credible and sustainable persistent campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy” Isis, which has seized control of a swath of Syria and Iraq.

The air strikes represent a dramatic volte face for a president who has spent three years battling pressure in Washington to become more involved in Syria and who was elected on a promise to end the country’s wars in the Middle East.Explaining the escalation of Washington’s military role in the region Mr Obama highlighted the role of the US’s Arab partners in the strikes.

“The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone,” he said.

Mr Obama met representatives of several partner countries in New York on Tuesday.

The US separately bombed facilities controlled by the al-Qaeda affiliate Khorasan group in Syria, near Aleppo, after receiving intelligence that it was planning “imminent” attacks on Europe and possibly the US, the Pentagon said.

A statement from the group, which is a rival of Isis, said its leader, identified as Abu Yousef al-Turki, had been killed, but this could not be confirmed.

The bombing of non-Isis militants angered some Syrian rebel groups who feared that any Islamists could be targeted, to the benefit of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The US Central Command said American and “partner nation forces” – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – used “fighter, bomber, remotely piloted aircraft and Tomahawk land attack missiles” against Isis targets. Qatar provided logistical support.

The US said it had informed Syria of the attacks via the UN before they began and had warned Damascus “not to engage US aircraft.

“We did not request the regime’s permission. We did not co-ordinate our actions with the Syrian government. We did not provide advance notification to the Syrians at a military level, or give any indication of our timing on specific targets,” said Jen Psaki, the state department spokeswoman.

The Syrian foreign ministry said the government would continue to fight Isis and called for international co-ordination “at the highest levels, to strike terrorism”.

Russia, a Syrian ally, said air strikes in the country would be illegal without Damascus’s permission or a UN Security Council resolution.

Having for much of his career defined his position as a contrast with the record of his hawkish predecessor George W Bush, Mr Obama finds himself engaged in a conflict that could last well beyond his term of office. He threatened air strikes against the Syrian regime last year, only to pursue a deal over chemical weapons when political support at home dissipated. However, public opinion has swung behind military action in Syria after the beheading of two US journalists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring organisation, said at least 70 Isis fighters were killed in the attacks across northern Syria and about 300 wounded.

Activists from the village of Kafr Daryan, in Idlib province west of Aleppo, said at least 10 civilians were killed when homes in their village were hit early in the morning in strikes that targeted at least four sites nearby.

It was not possible to corroborate the claims.

“It felt like an earthquake followed by the sounds of explosions; the whole thing seemed to last only 10 seconds,” said Ahmed Hamadiya, a rebel fighter from the town.

Britain did not take part in the attack although is discussing possible future participation.

Turkey also hinted that it could contribute. “Turkey will provide the necessary support for the US’s anti-Isis operation,” said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “The support could be military or political.”

Activists said the air raids went beyond Isis strongholds, with at least 30 strikes on Deir Ezzor province in the east. Other strikes hit the city of Tel Abyad in the northwest bordering Turkey, where Syrian Kurdish forces began fighting Isis this week.

The observatory reported multiple attacks in Albu Kamal, a town near the Iraqi border in addition to those in Raqqa, Isis’s stronghold.

Activists in Raqqa reported the strikes on social media.

“The sky is full of drones,” said one activist on Twitter, noting that most of the strikes were concentrated on the Isis headquarters in Raqqa. He said among the targets were the Division 93 base and Tabqa air base – former military sites of the Syrian army now held by Isis.


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