Reports: The United States and several of its Gulf Arab allies launched at least 50 air and missile strikes on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) strongholds in Syria on Tuesday, opening a new, far more complicated front in the battle against the militants, as well as marking the start of a new chapter […]
The United States and several of its Gulf Arab allies launched at least 50 air and missile strikes on Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) strongholds in Syria on Tuesday, opening a new, far more complicated front in the battle against the militants, as well as marking the start of a new chapter in the ongoing US-proclaimed global “war on terror.”
Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement to the press, “I can confirm that US military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against [ISIS] 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.”
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity toReuters, said that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and Bahrain were all involved, although their exact roles in the military action were unclear.
Another official said a US warship had launched surface-to-surface Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and that armed US drones were also used in the attacks. The American newspaper The New York Times reportedthat the bombing campaign is much larger in scope and scale than the one in Iraq.
The targets included training camps, headquarters, and weapon supplies in the north and eastern parts of Syria. The cities in the northern and eastern parts of Syria such as Aleppo, Hasaka, Deir Ezzor, and Raqqa, one of the main bases for ISIS. At least 20 ISIS and 30 Nusra Front fighters were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Additionally, at least eight civilians, including three children, were reportedly killed when one of the strikes hit a residential building near the northern city of Aleppo.
The Syrian government said it received a letter from US Secretary of State John Kerry, delivered by the Iraqi foreign minister, informing it that the United States and its allies planned to attack ISIS in Syria hours before the raids started.
The United States had previously stressed it would not coordinate with the government of President Bashar al-Assad in any way in its fight against ISIS. US President Barack Obama’s position has long been that he would like to see Assad leave power, particularly after using chemical weapons against his own people last year.
As part and parcel of the American “strategy” to defeat ISIS is the decision to bolster the funding and arming of what is dubbed as the “moderate” anti-Syrian regime forces, under the justification that they will also fight ISIS, further gives credence to the belief that there is more to the direct American involvement than merely eliminating ISIS.
The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, an external opposition group, have already welcomed the strikes on ISIS in Syria.
“This will make us stronger in the fight against Assad. The campaign should continue until the [ISIS] is completely eradicated from Syrian lands,” Monzer Akbik, special envoy to the president of the exiled coalition, said to the press on Tuesday.
[Video obtained from YouTube claims to show explosions caused by the first US air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria]
Pro-Syrian regime groups such as Hands Off Syria, as well as allies to the Syrian regime, have argued that the war against ISIS is a cover for regime change in Syria and an unilateral act of aggression that violates the terms of international law. For its part, the Syrian government had previously stated that it would allow US strikes on ISIS within its borders as long as it was notified.
Israel shoots down Syrian warplane
Complicating matters further is that the news of the US attack was also complemented by news that Israel had shot down a Syrian warplane in what it described as an act of aggression, confirming the first such incident in three decades. Israel’s military said earlier it had shot down a Russian-made Sukhoi jet over the occupied Golan Heights, which in recent weeks has been the scene of fierce clashes between al-Nusra Front and the Syrian army.
The addition of Arab allies within the more than 40 nation coalition in the attacks was seen as crucial for the credibility of the American-led campaign, yet the inclusion of countries like Turkey – which has turned a blind eye to the mobility of ISIS, and other repressive forces, on its territory and borders – and Saudi Arabia – a nation that has provided a large chunk of the ideological foundations and practices that shape ISIS’ belief system – demands pause from observers and commentators examining the volatile events in Iraq and Syria.
The fact that the US is only willing to work with its allies in the region and is unwilling to significantly include states like Iran, which have contemporary experience in warfare against ISIS, suggests that the campaign is not really about comprehensively confronting the militant organization, but more about ensuring and sustaining American interests when the dust settles.
And while much of the American public and political establishment support military action against ISIS under the justification that the fundamentalist militant organization poses a direct threat to American interests, statements by a number of US security officials point to the contrary.
For its part, Russia’s Foreign Ministry stated that the US-led strikes on Syria was an attempt “to carry out geopolitical tasks at expense of other’s sovereignty” and “destabilizes the situation.”
“Any such action can be carried out only in accordance with international law. That implies not a formal, one-sided ‘notification’ of air strikes but the presence of explicit consent from the government of Syria or the approval of a corresponding U.N. Security Council decision,” it said in a statement.
“Attempts to achieve one’s own geopolitical goals in violation of the sovereignty of countries in the region only exacerbates tensions and further destabilises the situation.”
The strikes took place hours before Obama goes to New York for the UN General Assembly where he will try to rally more nations behind his drive to aggressively take on ISIS.
Obama had shied away from getting involved in Syria’s civil war a year ago, seeing no positive outcome for the United States, but the rise of ISIS and the beheading of two American captives allowed him to seize the opportunity to play a more active role in the conflict in Syria.
Prior to Obama’s public address on September 10 – which formally announced plans to garner an international coalition to “degrade and destroy” ISIS – the Americans had already launched more than 150 strikes on ISIS positions in Iraq. Yet, these strikes are considered superficial when compared to the actual progress made on the ground by Iraqi, Iranian, Kurdish, and Syrian military and militia forces in the face of ISIS’ startling expansion earlier this summer.
“A replay of the war on terror”
Ultimately, for many commentators, the American strategy of warfare against terrorism oozes unoriginality, and an overwhelming sense of a lack of a coherent vision, especially considering the failure of that same tactic in countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and elsewhere, where the violence by the American intervention has only allowed the mutation of militant groups to a more formidable form. The exemplification of this point was presented in a humorous article by the satirical American website, The Onion, titled, “Obama vows to split ISIS into dozens of extremist splinter groups.”
Joe Dyke, a British journalist based in the region, in an article he penned for the UK-branch of The Huffington Post on September 17, echoes The Onion, albeit in a more serious manner:
“[T]he victor in this, at least in the short-term, is ISIS – dragging in an ill-prepared enemy that enables it to legitimize its position as battling against the ‘crusaders.’ It may even help heal their rifts with other Islamist groups – in their first ever joint statement, al-Qaeda’s two longest-running affiliates – al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – have issued a joint statement calling upon their “brothers” in Iraq and Syria to “stop killing each other and unite against the American campaign.”
Similarly, Seumas Milne, writing for The Guardian argued:
We’re now witnessing a replay of the war on terror, more than a decade after it was demonstrated to fuel terrorism rather than fight it. Since 9/11 the US has launched 94,000 air strikes: most against Iraq and Afghanistan, but also Libya, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in the process.
Obama refers approvingly to the drone and special-forces campaigns in Yemen and Somalia as a model for his new war in Iraq. But they haven’t just killed large numbers of civilians. They have been a recruiting machine for al-Qaeda and al-Shabab, and fanned civil war.
Milne and Dyke’s observations resonate more forcibly when taking into account the recent reportby Al-Akhbar’s Radwan Mortada of the “euphoria” by ISIS forces and their supporters who eagerly await a American military involvement because “they are finally going to fight the ‘alliance of tyrants’ in the ‘War of the Cross’ waged against them.” For them, the American intervention provides great benefits for the sophisticated propaganda enterprise, which in turn ramps up recruitment and prestige for the organization.
Only a few weeks ago, Obama admitted that therewas no strategy in terms of how to deal with ISIS. Today, as the bombing campaign has expanded from Iraq to Syria, the American administration is doing what it does best: bomb first, leave others to handle the mess later.