President Barack Obama confirmed Tuesday that 14 airstrikes took place on Monday night in northern Syria to combat ISIS fighters in the region.
The operation was aided by Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as announced by President Obama. “America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security,” he added. “The strength of this coalition makes clear to the world that this is not just America’s fight alone.” The inclusion of Middle Eastern forces gives the US-led coalition against ISIS the legitimacy it needs to effectively operate in the region.
The strikes in Syria come after uncertainty as to whether the West would act in the country, as Syrian authorities have declined US requests to perform airstrikes against ISIS inside its borders. The State Department confirmed that its ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, gave her Syrian counterpart prior notice of airstrikes within the country. Power justified the legality of US action in Syria by citing the Charter of the United Nations, which gives countries the right to defend themselves by force in foreign nations when that nation is unwilling or unable to address the problem.
“The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe havens directly itself,” said Power in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing ISIL threat to Iraq.”
Ki-moon said that extremist groups in Syria “pose an immediate threat,” but did not explicitly back the airstrikes.
Speaking about the airstrikes, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that “We warned Syria not to engage US aircraft… [and told them that] we did not request the regime’s permission [to launch the airstrikes]. We did not coordinate our actions with the Syrian government. We did not provide advance notification to the Syrians at a military level, or give them any indication of our timing on specific targets.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said in state media that he supports any international efforts to combat “terrorism” in Syria. However, the country has refused to work directly with the United States. The president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Hadi al-Bahra, said that “We have called for air strikes such as those that commenced tonight with a heavy heart and deep concern, as these strikes begin in our own homeland. We insist that utmost care is taken to avoid civilian causalities. Our people have been suffering at the hands of ISIS for over a year.”
Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said that the attacks were ordered by Army General Lloyd Austin, commander of US forces in the Middle East and South Asia, “under authorization granted to him by the commander in chief.”
One of the targets hit by the airstrikes was the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, as confirmed by a UN official. According to watchdog groups, “dozens” of ISIS fighters were killed or wounded in the attacks, with some reports estimating that as many as 70 fighters killed. Key buildings which ISIS had used as command centers were destroyed, but their occupants had been evacuated before the attacks.
President Obama reported that American planes had also struck an al-Qaeda linked terrorist group known as the Khorasan Group, which UN officials said had been plotting “imminent attacks” against the West.
The Pentagon confirmed the use of warplanes, drones, and Tomahawk cruise missiles in the strikes. The US Department of Defense added that it used the new F-22 stealth fighter for the first time in a combat role.
The US is planning to further combat ISIS in Syria by training Syrian rebel leaders against them, but the training has yet to begin. The Pentagon estimates that it will take at least eight months to ready the first five units.
The attacks come in the wake of President Obama’s announcement of war plans against ISIS forces in Syria, following the formulation of a US-led coalition aimed at fighting the militant group.
The President is expected to use the upcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York to further support for military action.