"I can confirm that U.S. 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.
U.S. Central Command said Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and
the United Arab Emirates participated in or supported the strikes
against Islamic State targets around the eastern cities of Raqqa,
Deir al-Zor, Hasakah and Albu Kamal.
Targets included "fighters, training compounds, headquarters and
command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance
center, supply trucks and armed vehicles," it said.
Separately, U.S. forces acting alone launched strikes in another
area of Syria against an al Qaeda-linked group, the Nusra Front, to
"disrupt imminent attack" against U.S. and Western interests by
"seasoned al Qaeda veterans", CentCom said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in
Syria, said at least 20 Islamic State fighters were killed in
strikes that hit at least 50 targets in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor
provinces in Syria's east.
It said strikes targeting the Nusra Front in the northern provinces
of Aleppo and Idlib had killed at least 50 fighters and eight
civilians. The Nusra Front is al Qaeda's official Syrian wing and
Islamic State's rival. The Observatory said most of the fighters
killed there were not Syrians.
The air attacks fulfill President Barack Obama's pledge to strike in
Syria against Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim group that has seized
swathes of Syria and Iraq, imposing a mediaeval interpretation of
Islam, slaughtering prisoners and ordering Shi'ites and non-Muslims
to convert or die.
Islamic State vowed revenge.
"These attacks will be answered," an Islamic State fighter told
Reuters by Skype from Syria, blaming the "sons of Saloul" - a
derogatory term for Saudi Arabia's ruling family - for allowing the
strikes to take place.
The Sunni fighters, who have proclaimed a caliphate ruling over all
Muslims, shook the Middle East by sweeping through northern Iraq in
June. They then alarmed the West in recent weeks by beheading two
U.S. journalists and a British aid worker, raising fears that they
could attack Western countries.
The strikes took place hours before Obama goes to the U.N. General
Assembly in New York where he will try to rally more nations behind
his drive to destroy Islamic State.
The action pitches Washington for the first time into the
three-year-old Syrian civil war, which has killed 200,000 people and
U.S. forces have previously hit Islamic State targets in Iraq, where
Washington supports the government, but had held back from a
military engagement in Syria, where the United States opposes
President Bashar al-Assad.
SYRIAN GOVERNMENT INFORMED
The Syrian government said Washington had informed it hours before
the strikes. Secretary of State John Kerry had sent a letter to
Damascus through his Iraqi counterpart, it said.
A ministry statement read on state television said Syria would
continue to attack Islamic State. It was ready to cooperate with any
international effort to fight terrorism and was coordinating with
the government of Iraq.
The United States has previously said it would not coordinate with
Assad's government. Washington says Assad must leave power,
particularly after he was accused of using chemical weapons against
his own people last year.
Islamic State's Sunni fighters, now equipped with U.S. weapons
seized during their advance in Iraq, are among the most powerful
opponents of Assad, a member of a Shi'ite-derived sect. They are
also battling against rival Sunni groups in Syria, against the
Shi'ite-led government of Iraq and against Kurdish forces on both
sides of the border.
In recent days they have captured villages from Kurds near Syria's
Turkish border, sending nearly 140,000 refugees across the frontier
since last week. The United Nations said it was bracing for up to
400,000 people to flee.
Washington is determined to defeat the fighters without helping
Assad, a policy that requires deft diplomacy in a war in which
nearly all the region's countries have a stake.
The Western-backed Syrian opposition, which is fighting against both
Assad and Islamic State, welcomed the air strikes which it said
would help defeat Assad.
The targets included Raqqa city, the main headquarters in Syria of
Islamic State fighters who have proclaimed a caliphate stretching
from Syria's Aleppo province through the Tigris and Euphrates river
valleys to the outskirts of Baghdad.
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Photographs taken in Raqqa showed wreckage of what the Islamic State
fighter said was a drone that had been shot down. Pieces of the
wreckage, including what appeared to be part of a propeller, were
shown loaded into the back of a van.
A video posted online, filmed through night-vision apparatus, showed
lights from jets flying overhead firing a stream of projectiles at
the ground. It was not clear where or when the video was filmed.
Jordan, confirming its participation, said its air force had bombed
"a number of targets that belong to some terrorist groups that
sought to commit terrorist acts inside Jordan," although it did not
specify any location.
Israel shot down a Syrian aircraft over air space it controls in the
Golan Heights but there was no indication the incident, confirmed by
Syria, was linked to the U.S. action.
WEAPONS SUPPLIES, CHECKPOINTS HIT
U.S. officials and the Syrian Observatory said buildings used by the
militants, their weapons supplies and checkpoints were targeted in
the attacks on Raqqa. Areas along the Iraq-Syria border were also
Residents in Raqqa had said last week that Islamic State was moving
underground after Obama signaled on Sept. 11 that air attacks on its
forces could be expanded from Iraq to Syria.
The group had evacuated buildings it was using as offices,
redeployed its heavy weaponry, and moved fighters' families out of
the city, the residents said.
"They are trying to keep on the move," said one Raqqa resident,
communicating via the Internet and speaking on condition of
anonymity because of safety fears. "They only meet in very limited
The addition of Arab allies in the attacks was crucial for the
credibility of the American-led campaign. Some U.S. allies in the
Middle East are skeptical of how far Washington will commit to a
complex conflict set against the backdrop of Islam's 1,300-year-old
rift between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
With the backing of Jordan and the Gulf states, Washington has
gained the support of Sunni states that are hostile to Assad. It has
not, however, won the open support of Assad himself or his main
regional ally, Shi'ite Iran.
Some traditional Western allies, including Britain which went to war
alongside the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, have so far
stayed out of the campaign.
France has struck Islamic State in Iraq but not in Syria. A Muslim
militant group which kidnapped a French national in Algeria on
Sunday has threatened in a video to kill him unless Paris halted
intervention in Iraq.
NATO ally Turkey, which is alarmed by Islamic State but also worried
about Kurdish fighters and opposed to any action that might help
Assad, has refused a military role in the coalition.
Assad's ally Russia, whose ties with Washington are at their lowest
since the end of the Cold War, said any strikes in Syria are illegal
without Assad's permission or a U.N. Security Council resolution,
which Moscow would have the right to veto.
Obama backed away from getting involved in Syria's civil war a year
ago after threatening air strikes against Assad's government over
the use of chemical weapons. The rise of Islamic State prompted him
to change course and take action against Assad's most powerful
Washington says it hopes to strengthen a moderate Syrian opposition
to fill the vacuum so that it can degrade Islamic State without
helping Assad. But so far, the opposition groups recognized as
legitimate by the United States and its allies have been a
comparatively weak force on the battlefield.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Dziadosz and Mariam Karouny in
Beirut, Lesley Wroughton, Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick in
Washington; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Paul Taylor)
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