The United States and its Arab allies unleashed deadly bomb and missile strikes on jihadists in Syria today, opening a new front in the battle against the Islamic State group.
Dozens of IS and Al-Qaeda militants were reported to have been killed in the raids, which Washington said had partly targeted extremists plotting an imminent attack against the West. Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates joined the US-led operation, which involved fighter jets, bombers, drones and Tomahawk missiles fired from US warships.
The strikes marked a turning point in the war against IS militants, who have seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, and declared an Islamic caliphate. The fact that the five Arab nations joining the strikes are Sunni-ruled will also be of crucial symbolic importance in the fight against the Sunni extremists of IS.
Washington had been reluctant to intervene in Syria’s raging civil war, but was jolted into action as the jihadists captured more territory and committed atrocities including the beheadings of three Western hostages. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime gave a muted initial response, saying it had been notified in advance of the strikes and supported any international effort against the jihadists.
The Pentagon said the raids had destroyed or damaged IS fighter positions, training compounds, command centres and armed vehicles in the jihadist stronghold of Raqa and near the border with Iraq. An anti-regime activist in Raqa, Abu Yusef, said that IS had redeployed its fighters in response. The impact of the strikes has been huge, he told AFP via the Internet. The jihadists are focused on trying to save themselves now, he added. The raids prompted many residents to run from their homes, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.
Civilians who live near IS positions across Syria have fled, director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. It follows a recent exodus of tens of thousands of residents into neighbouring Turkey in response to a jihadist assault on a strategic Kurdish town in northern Syria.
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