Updated Sept. 23 at 12:56 p.m. E.T.
The United States and allied forces launched airstrikes against Islamist militants in Syria for the first time late Monday, the Pentagon confirmed.
The strikes, which were carried out early Tuesday morning local time, were aimed at key targets of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), including its base of operations in Raqqa, Syria, as well as a secretive al-Qaeda offshoot known as the Khorasan Group. The Pentagon said the U.S. and its allies used a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.
President Barack Obama authorized the military to begin a broad-based aerial campaign against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria earlier this month, and is working to assemble a global coalition to combat the group, which has seized vast swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory. In a victory for Obama’s efforts to demonstrate regional support for the anti-ISIS effort, the U.S. was accompanied by five Arab nations in the strikes, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Those nations all participated in, or supported, the strikes.
Speaking from the White House South Lawn Tuesday morning, Obama thanked the American allies for their support. “The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone,” he said in a brief statement. Obama highlighted both the strikes against ISIS and Khorasan, saying “we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”
“The strikes destroyed or damaged multiple ISIL targets in the vicinity of Ar Raqqah, Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal and included ISIL fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles,” CENTCOM said Tuesday.
The strikes began the night before Obama was set to travel to New York City for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. A White House official said Obama was updated on the operation as it proceeded.
The president did not seek congressional authorization for the air campaign against ISIS, but Obama and other administration officials briefed leaders on Capitol Hill late Monday shortly before the strikes began. Last week Congress voted to authorize the Pentagon to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels who are fighting both ISIS and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. U.S. officials said the Assad government was provided notification that the strikes were imminent, but was not consulted or involved in coordinating the effort.
The military said the American strikes included 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea operating from the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf, “as well as U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter, remotely piloted and bomber aircraft.”
The campaign in Syria follows more than 194 airstrikes carried out over the past two months against ISIS targets in Iraq, but only recently has the U.S. moved on the “offense” against the group.
“The United States conducted these strikes as part of the President’s comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL,” CENTCOM said. “Going forward, the U.S. military will continue to conduct targeted airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq as local forces go on the offensive against this terrorist group.”
The strikes against Khorasan Group were unexpected, and involved only American assets. Senior government officials have raised alarm about the network of veteran al-Qaeda extremists plotting attacks on the U.S. from Syrian safe havens, but have been wary of even confirming the group’s existence until the past several weeks.
“The United States has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qa’ida veterans—sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group—who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations.” CENTCOM said in the statement. “In total, U.S. Central Command conducted eight strikes against Khorasan Group targets west of Aleppo to include training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities.”