WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. and Arab allies launched what leaders declared would be a long and sustained military assault against Islamic State strongholds in Syria and Iraq, and the U.S. simultaneously targeted an al-Qaida cell said to be plotting imminent attacks on American and other Western interests, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
Hours after the barrage of airstrikes began, Lt. Gen. William Mayville said the attacks took out key Islamic State training camps and facilities. But he said it was too early to tell if they were able to disrupt a terrorist attack being planned by al-Qaida militants, known as the Khorasan Group. He said the group was “nearing the execution phase” of an attack against Europe or the U.S.
President Barack Obama said Arab support for the airstrikes “makes it clear to the world this is not America’s fight alone.”
“We’re going to do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group, for the security of the country and the regime and for the entire world,” Obama said as he left Washington for meetings of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the top American military official, said the U.S. and its Arab allies achieved their aim of showing the extremists their attacks will not go unanswered.
The U.S. and five Arab nations attacked the Islamic State group’s headquarters in eastern Syria in nighttime raids Monday using land- and sea-based U.S. aircraft as well as Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from two Navy ships in the Red Sea and the northern Persian Gulf.
Gen. Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the Pentagon the U.S. carried out the vast majority of the strikes in an operation against the Islamic State group that he said would continue and likely last “in terms of years.” But he declined to provide details on what the Arab nations did. He said the strikes included Islamic State militants’ financial centers in order to disrupt the well-funded group’s activities.
In Syria, activists said the strikes hit targets in and around the city of Raqqa and the province with the same name. Raqqa is the Islamic State group’s self-declared capital in Syria. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Associated Press, “There is confirmed information there are casualties among Islamic State group members.”
The strikes weren’t coordinated with the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Mayville said, but Syrian and U.S. officials said the U.S. informed Syria’s envoy to the U.N. ahead of time.
Mayville said the Syrian government did not interfere with the operation. He said the strikes did not specifically target Islamic State group leaders, and that he was unaware of any civilian casualties.
Apparently trying to position his government on the side of the airstrikes, Assad said Tuesday he supported any international effort against terrorism. He spoke during a meeting with Faleh al-Fayadh, an envoy of Iraq’s prime minister.
American warplanes also carried out eight airstrikes to disrupt what the military described as “imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests” by the shadowy Khorosan Group, a network of al-Qaida veterans working with the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida, known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to get foreign fighters with Western passports and explosives to target U.S. aviation.
Obama said the U.S. was “proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with Arab partners, and he called the roll: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. All but Qatar actually launched airstrikes. Qatar played a supporting role.
The airstrikes were part of the expanded military campaign that Obama authorized nearly two weeks ago in order to disrupt and destroy the Islamic State militants, who have slaughtered thousands of people, beheaded Westerners — including two American journalists — and captured large swaths of Syria and northern and western Iraq.