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U.S. and Allies Bomb Multiple Islamic State Targets in Syria

September 23rd 2014

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The United States and a group of five Arab countries have carried out air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria.

In a September 23 statement, U.S. Central Command said 14 air strikes overnight damaged or destroyed targets in four areas of eastern Syria, including in the Islamic State group's main stronghold of Raqqa.

It said Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates either participated in or supported the attacks, which hit training compounds, militant headquarters and a finance center.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the airstrikes killed or wounding tens of militants.

According to Voice of America, Pentagon spokesman Jeff Pool said on the evening of September 22 that the strikes involved fighter planes, bombers and ships at sea firing cruise missiles.

“I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles. Given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time.  The decision to conduct these strikes was made early today by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted to him by his commander in chief.  We will provide more details later as operationally appropriate,” said Pool.

Syria's foreign ministry said the United States informed its ambassador to the United Nations about the strikes before they took place.

The head of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition coalition welcomed the air strikes, saying the international community has joined their fight against the Islamic State group.

The U.S. Central Command statement also said American forces alone conducted eight separate air strikes west of Aleppo against former al-Qaida fighters known as the Khorasan Group. It said that action was in response to an "imminent" plot against U.S. and Western interests. President Barack Obama announced in a speech on September 10 that he had authorized the expanded use of air strikes against the Islamic State, including in Syria.

The air strikes that first began in Iraq in August have helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces push back against the militants, who took control of large areas in northern and western Iraq as well as eastern Syria. Pool said earlier on September 22 that U.S. forces have conducted a total of 190 air strikes in Iraq, including four that very day near Kirkuk.

In the past week, the advance by the Islamic State has also included Kurdish areas in northern Syria, along the Turkish border, leading to more than 130,000 people crossing into Turkey to escape the militants.

Noticeably absent among the nations participating in the current airstrikes is Egypt, which as of 2013 was receiving $1.5 billion in U.S. assistance. Secretary of State John Kerry during a visit to Cairo on September 14 was unable to secure any obvious aid from Egypt in the fight against the Islamic State. Al-Ahram, an English-language newspaper based in Egypt, interiewed a retired Egyptian army officer who provided some insight into the current government's thinking. Regarding U.S. coalition-building efforts, retired general Mahmoud Khalaf told Al-Ahram “This is propaganda to ease the anger among Americans who have been stunned by the slaughtering of two American citizens by IS terrorists in Iraq.” Regarding the airstrikes carried out by U.S. forces, Khalaf said "Using fighter planes against terrorists will destroy facilities and bases, not the fighters,” says Khalaf. “IS elements do not gather in military units and it is very difficult to track small groups.”

Cutting Edge Contributor Martin Barillas also edits Speroforum.com

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