Published Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Lieutenant General William C. Mayville Jr., Joint Staff Director of Operations Director of Operations, speaks about airstrikes in Syria during a briefing at the Pentagon September 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo: AFP – Brendan Smialowski):
Updated at 3:14 pm (GMT +3): The US carried out three additional airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon announced Tuesday evening.
On Tuesday, Russia and Iran condemned the attacks for violating Syria’s sovereignty since they were launched without the approval of the UN Security Council or permission from Damascus.
But the Syrian government issued no public objections, saying that Washington had notified it in advance, a claim the United States denied.
On Wednesday, a Syrian government minister said US-led air strikes against militants are going in the “right direction” because the government was being kept informed and they were not hitting civilians or Syrian military targets.
“What has happened so far is proceeding in the right direction in terms of informing the Syrian government and by not targeting Syrian military installations and not targeting civilians,” Ali Haidar, minister for national reconciliation, told Reuters.
The announcement brings the total number of official US and partner nation airstrikes against ISIS in Syria to 20.
Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have joined the US in carrying out operations against ISIS in Syria.
An additional eight airstrikes announced earlier Tuesday were conducted unilaterally by the US against the Khorasan group – a network of suspected al-Qaeda “veterans” in Syria.
The leader of the Khorasan militant group was killed in a US airstrike on Tuesday in Syria, jihadist sources confirmed on Wednesday.
Muhsin al-Fadhli, a Kuwaiti-born al-Qaeda leader, was killed along with his wife and daughter in the raids that targeted several group sites in the northwestern province of Idlib, the sources, which have close links to al-Fadhli’s family in Kuwait, told Anadolu Agency.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 50 al-Qaeda militants were killed, as well as more than 70 ISIS members. Eight civilians, including three children, were also among the dead.
In addition to hitting ISIS in Syria, the US carried out an airstrike that destroyed an ISIS armed vehicle northwest of the Iraqi capital.
With the Baghdad strike, the US has carried out at least 198 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.
Tuesday’s raids came after US and French airstrikes in neighboring Iraq, opening a new front in the war against ISIS which has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq and declared an Islamic “caliphate.”
ISIS militants have warned of retaliation to the strikes, and Algerian extremists threatened Monday to kill a French hostage within 24 hours unless Paris halted air raids in Iraq.
French President Francois Hollande vowed not to give in to jihadists, declaring that “no terrorist group can influence the will, position or freedom of France.”
The raids have prompted many civilians living near ISIS positions to flee, according to the Syrian Observatory.
UN and US laud US-led airstrikes
US President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he believed airstrikes the United States and its Arab allies unleashed against the ISIS group in Syria sent a clear message that the “world is united” in confronting the jihadists.
Thanking Arab leaders for the action, Obama said: “Because of the almost unprecedented effort of this coalition, I think we now have an opportunity to send a very clear message that the world is united.”
The US has built up a coalition of more than 50 nations to combat ISIS, and Obama will seek to enlist support from others at the UN General Assembly, which opens Wednesday.
NATO member Turkey a neighbor of Syria, has so far remained on the sidelines, but US Secretary of State John Kerry said Ankara had pledged to join the coalition.
“Turkey is very much part of this coalition, and Turkey will be very engaged on the frontlines of this effort,” Kerry said after meeting Turkish officials in New York.
Speaking on national television, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara’s contribution would consist of “all kinds of support including military and political.”
Hours after the unprecedented raids on Syria, the US leader declared that “the strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.”
“It must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people,” he added.
Critics of the American military intervention have pointed out that the US only decided to step in once ISIS began threatening its interests in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The UN envoy for Syria on Tuesday called the fight against jihadists in Syria a game changer, and claiming that US airstrikes could even help ease humanitarian needs.
“In order to move at the moment there is obviously a game changer and the game changer is Daesh and the fight against Daesh,” Staffan de Mistura told reporters at UN headquarters, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
He said the current period was “delicate” and “dangerous” but that the priority was to care for the 11 million Syrians desperately in need of aid despite the welter of crises facing the world.
Asked if US airstrikes would exacerbate the situation on the ground, de Mistura said he had no indication so far that the air campaign was affecting humanitarian assistance.
“On the contrary, I think that if there was any kind of reduction of the pressure by Daesh on the local population, we’ll have less, a little bit, moving across (the border) and therefore less of an urgent need of humanitarian assistance.”
De Mistura, who was appointed envoy in July, recently returned to New York from talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition leadership.
He conceded there were “no grand projects at the moment” but said he had three main priorities: reducing the level of violence, increasing aid access and promoting a political process.
“Fighting terrorism needs to be accompanied with a genuine process, a political process including all Syrians,” he said, without mentioning how this could be done without the involvement of the Syrian government.
US informed Iran in advance of planned Syria strikes
De Mistura also spoke with some confidence about a forthcoming visit to Iran, a key stakeholder in the region and ally of the regime in Damascus.
“I think that Iran is an important player, and I hope an important partner in what should be a political process,” he said.
De Mistura’s comments came as a senior Iranian official told Reuters that the United States had informed Iran in advance of its intention to strike ISIS in Syria and assured Tehran that it would not target Assad forces.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the senior Iranian official said Tehran had voiced concern for Assad, its closest regional ally and the recipient of Iranian military support during a Syrian civil war now in its fourth year.
“Iran was concerned about Assad’s position and his government being weakened in case of any action against (ISIS) in Syria and brought this issue up in meetings with Americans,” the senior Iranian official said.
“This issue was first discussed in Geneva and then was discussed thoroughly in New York where Iran was assured that Assad and his government will not be targeted in case of any military action against Daesh in Syria.”
The communication was partially confirmed by a senior US State Department official.
Asked about the assurance that Syrian government forces would not be targeted, the senior US State Department official told Reuters: “We communicated our intentions, but not specific timing or targets, to the Iranians. As we’ve said, we won’t be coordinating military action with Iran. And of course we won’t be sharing intelligence with Iran either.”
Russia, Iran say US airstrikes violate Syria’s sovereignty
Iran and Russia criticized the US-led airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) positions in Syria on Tuesday, saying they should have been agreed with Damascus.
The United States, which has long called for the dismissal of the democratically-elected Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and several Gulf Arab dictatorships carried out the first air and missile strikes on ISIS strongholds in Syria, without the consent of the Syrian government.
“Any such action can be carried out only in accordance with international law,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“That implies not a formal, one-sided ‘notification’ of airstrikes but the presence of explicit consent from the government of Syria or the approval of a corresponding UN Security Council decision.”
“Attempts to achieve one’s own geopolitical goals in violation of the sovereignty of countries in the region only exacerbate tensions and further destabilize the situation,” the ministry said.
Similarly, Iran condemned the US-led strikes on jihadist militants in Syria on Tuesday as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.
“Any kind of military intervention in Syria without the demand of the government of this country and without abiding by international laws is not acceptable,” Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted as saying by official news agency IRNA.
“War on terrorism cannot be used as a pretext to deny national sovereignty,” he said, adding that Tehran would consult with Damascus and “international actors” including the United Nations about the strikes.
Ahead of Tuesday’s US airstrikes in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the offensive should not be carried out without the Syrian government’s permission, in a phone call with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“The Russian side stressed that directing airstrikes against the bases of ISIS terrorists in Syria should not be carried out without the agreement of the Syrian government,” said a Kremlin statement issued shortly after midnight local time (20:00 GMT Monday).
Putin will not attend a UN General Assembly that gathers in New York on Wednesday which is expected to focus much of its attention on the jihadist advance in Iraq and Syria.
The Western-backed Syrian opposition, which is fighting both Assad and ISIS, welcomed the airstrikes.
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