NewsMilitary

Actions

President Obama: “This is not America’s fight alone”

Default-Image_1280x720.png
Posted at 10:30 AM, Sep 23, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-23 11:52:47-04

(CNN) -- The coalition that attacked ISIS in Syria overnight "makes it clear to the world that this is not America's fight alone," U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday.

Noting that he had "made clear that America would act as part of a broad coalition," the President declared at the White House: "That's exactly what we've done."

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Qatar all participated in the operation, the U.S. military said. Bahrain, Jordan, and the UAE all said they took part in the airstrikes. Saudi Arabia did as well, the U.S. military said, and Qatar played a supporting role.

"The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America's fight alone," Obama said at the White House. "Above all, the people and governments in the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve." ISIL is another acronym referring to the terrorist group, which calls itself the Islamic State.

Also Monday night, the United States took action -- on its own -- against another terrorist organization, the Khorasan Group. Obama described its members as "seasoned al Qaeda operatives in Syria."

U.S. officials said the group was plotting attacks against the United States and other Western targets.

"Once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people," Obama said.

There is bipartisan support in Congress for the U.S. military actions, Obama said, adding that "America is always stronger when we stand united. And that unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what's necessary to defend our country."

Strikes came in three waves

The strikes were "very successful," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday.

While the military can't comment in detail about future plans, the strikes "were only the beginning," Kirby added.

The strikes came in three waves, with coalition partners participating in the latter two, Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville Jr. said Tuesday. The first wave, which mostly targeted the Khorasan Group, started at 5:30 a.m. (8:30 p.m. ET Monday) and involved U.S. ships firing missiles into eastern and northern Syria.

The second wave, 30 minutes later, involved planes striking northern Syria, with targets including ISIS headquarters, training camps and combat vehicles. The third wave, begun shortly after 7 a.m., involved planes targeting ISIS training camps and combat vehicles in eastern Syria, Mayville said.

It's too early to say what effect the U.S. strikes had against the Khorasan Group, Mayville said.

Monitor group estimates at least 70 ISIS militants killed

The airstrikes against ISIS focused on the city of Raqqa, the declared capital of ISIS' self-proclaimed Islamic State. But other areas were hit as well.

The operation began with a flurry of Tomahawk missiles launched from the sea, followed by attacks from bomber and fighter aircraft, a senior U.S. military official told CNN.

The goal: Taking out ISIS' ability to command, train and resupply its militants.

In all, 200 pieces of ordnance were dropped by coalition members, and four dozen aircraft were used, a U.S. official told CNN. About 150 weapons used were precision-guided munitions. The United States fired 47 Tomahawk missiles, eight of them against Khorasan targets.

The number of casualties was not immediately clear. But U.S. Central Command said the strikes damaged or destroyed ISIS targets including fighters, training compounds, command-and-control facilities, a finance center and supply trucks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 70 ISIS militants were killed and more than 300 were wounded. But CNN and other news outlets were unable to confirm the figures.

CNN national security analyst Fran Townsend said these attacks focused on infrastructure, but were just the beginning.

Eventually, she said, there will likely be "a real campaign to go after leadership targets."

Celebration amid fear

For months, civilians in Raqqa have been living under the harsh rule of ISIS after militants took over their city, which had been one of Syria's most liberal cities. The group now controls much of their lives, imposing a strict brand of Sharia law and doling out barbaric punishments, such as beheadings and crucifixions.

Abo Ismail, an opposition activist inside Raqqa, said Tuesday that residents were elated to see the U.S. attacking ISIS targets there.

But at the same time, he said, ISIS has increased security in the city.

"I would dance in the streets, but I am too afraid," Ismail said.

A U.S. intelligence official said that while law enforcement is aware the airstrikes against ISIS in Syria could incite a response, there is no evidence to suggest any terrorist strike is in the works against the United States.

A U.S. 'diplomatic achievement'

The involvement of several Mideast nations is "a remarkable diplomatic achievement," said CNN political commentator Peter Beinart. "I don't think it was expected that there would be this much Arab support."

Former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Mudd said the inclusion of Sunni-majority countries fighting a radical Sunni militant group sends a strong message.

"Prominent religious leaders have said ISIS is not representative of Islam, and now you have countries that are coming to the fore to attack it," he said.

Bahrain's state-run media said the country's air force "carried out earlier this morning along with the air forces of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), allied and friendly countries, air strikes against a number of selected targets of terrorist groups and organisations, and destroyed them, an authorised source at the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF)'s General Headquarters said."

The UAE air force "launched its first strikes against ISIL targets last evening," the Foreign Ministry said.

Jordan's official news agency, Petra, said the country carried out airstrikes against terrorist groups in Syria. It cited an unnamed military official as explaining the strikes were needed due to increased incidents and infiltrations along the border in the past two months. The report said Jordan will carry out further strikes if border attacks keep up.

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said, "The UK supports the airstrikes launched by the U.S. and regional allies last night," the Defense Ministry said on Twitter. The government "continues to discuss what further contribution the UK may make to international efforts to tackle the threat from ISIL," the ministry added.

Syria informed

The Syrian regime was notified of the U.S. plan to take direct action against ISIS inside Syria, a senior State Department official told CNN on Tuesday.

The United States did not seek the regime's permission, nor did it coordinate with the Syrian government, the source said, adding that Secretary of State John Kerry did not send a letter to the regime.

On state-run media, Syria said its U.N. representative was informed Monday that the U.S. and some of its allies would target ISIS. Syria also said its foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, "received a letter from his American counterpart delivered by the Iraqi foreign minister which informed him that 'the U.S. will target the positions of the ISIS terrorist organization, some of which are in Syria.'"

A 'punch in the nose'

Until now, ISIS has been able to take over cities and operate in Syria with near impunity. Now, it's coming under attack.

"This is the punch in the nose to the bully that we talked about on the playground," former Delta Force officer James Reese said. "ISIS is the bully, and we just punched him in the nose."

The United States has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, but never before against the militant group in Syria.

Syrian opposition: Finally

With the airstrikes, the United States enters a new level of engagement in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

For three years, Syrian rebels have been clamoring for Western military help as they battle regime forces and seek an end to four decades of al-Assad family rule. But the United States has resisted military action in Syria.

The difference now? ISIS, its bloody takeover of stretches of Iraq and Syria, and its threat to Americans.

"I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are," President Barack Obama said in a September 10 speech.

"That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven."

The Free Syria Foreign Mission said it was elated by the U.S. strikes.

"Thank God. What a momentous day -- a day that we have been looking forward to for so, so long," the Syrian opposition group said. "It's a big step forward, but we are nonetheless cleareyed that it will be a prolonged campaign to defeat ISIS."

Ironically, the U.S.-led offensive might please the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, as much as it does the Syrian opposition.

"It helps him because we're taking out one of the threats to his regime," said retired Air Force intelligence officer Lt. Col. Rick Francona.

"If we destroy ISIS, which we're committed to do ... that takes the biggest player off the table. And all he has to worry about is the smaller, less effective al Qaeda in Syria -- al-Nusra -- and the (rebel) Free Syrian Army, both of whom he has bested in the past couple of years."

British hostage shown in new video

John Cantlie, a British journalist held captive by ISIS, spoke in a second video posted by the terrorist group overnight.

He said Western governments are moving toward war, adding, "It's all quite a circus."

Since Cantlie is delivering ISIS propaganda and speaking under duress, CNN is not showing the video on its platforms.

Too little, too late?

But some say the United States waited too long to act against ISIS in Syria.

"The airstrikes have come much too late in the case of Syria, where the IS militants have had over a year to entrench themselves within the region -- especially the province of Raqqa," said Natasha Underhill, an expert on Middle East terrorism at Nottingham Trent University.

She said ISIS "is deeply entrenched in both Syria and Iraq, and it may take a lot more than airstrikes to make a dent in their campaign of creating an even larger caliphate across the Middle East."

Not over yet

Mudd said Tuesday's attacks were "just the start."

"This is not a definitive blow," the former CIA official said.

"When this gets interesting to me ... is six months down the road, when a second-tier ISIS commander starts to create some sort of cell to recruit foreigners from Europe or the United States or Canada into Syria. Do we still have the will and capability, and the intelligence, to locate that person, or that group of people, and put lead on the target?"

CNN's Gul Tuysuz, Steve Almasy, Jim Acosta, Barbara Starr, Arwa Damon, Jethro Mullen, Pam Brown, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Notes: President Obama speaks on Syria, September 23, 2014, 10 a.m.

"Last night on my orders, America's armed forces began strikes against ISIL targets in Syria. Today, we give thanks for the extraordinary service of our men and women in uniform, including the pilots who flew these missions with courage and professionalism that we have come to expect from the finest military that the world has ever known. Earlier this month I outlined for the American people our strategy, to confront the threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIL. I made clear that as part of this campaign, the United States would take action against targets in both Iraq and Syria, so that these terrorists can't find safe haven anywhere. I also made clear that America would act as the broad coalition, and that's exactly what we have done. We are joined in this action by our friends and partners, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations, on behalf of our common security. The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America's fight alone. About all of the people and governments in the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve. Meanwhile, we will move forward with our plan supported by bipartisan majorities in Congress, to ramp up our effort to train, and equip the Syrian opposition for the best counter way to ISIL and the outside regime. And more broadly, over 40 nations have offered to help in this comprehensive effort to confront this terrorist threat - to take out terrorist targets; to train and equip Iraqi and Syrian opposition fighters who are going up against ISIL on the ground; to cut off ISIL's financing; to counter its hateful ideology; and to stop the flow of fighters into and out of the region. Last night we also took strikes to disrupt plotting against the US and our allies by seasoned Al-Qaeda operatives in Syria known as the Khorasan group. And once again it must be clear to anyone who will plot against America, and try to do Americans harm, that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people. I've spoken to leaders in Congress and I am pleased there is bipartisan support for the actions we are taking. America is always stronger when we stand united. That unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what's necessary to defend out country. Over the next several days, I will have the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister al-Abadi of Iraq and with friends and allies at the UN to continue to build support in the coalition that's confronting the serious threat to our peace and security. The overall effort will take time, and there are challenges ahead; but we're going to do what's necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group for the security of this country, and of the region, and for the entire world. Thanks, God bless our troops, God bless America."

USS George H.W. Bush, USS Arleigh Burke among U.S. forces striking Syria

Facts on ISIS

(CNN) -- Here's a look at Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Facts: Started as an al Qaeda splinter group.

Also known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and Islamic State (IS).

The aim of ISIS is to create an Islamic state across Sunni areas of Iraq and in Syria.

ISIS is known for killing dozens of people at a time and carrying out public executions, crucifixions and other acts. It has taken over large swaths of northern and western Iraq.

The group currently controls hundreds of square miles. It ignores international borders and has a presence from Syria's Mediterranean coast to south of Baghdad. It rules by Sharia law.

Unable to serve under the new Iraq government after Saddam Hussein's military was disbanded, former Iraqi soldiers became ISIS fighters, according to Middle East expert Fawaz Gerges.

Leader

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: Very little is known about al-Baghdadi, but a biography posted on jihadist websites in 2013 said he earned a doctorate in Islamic studies from a university in Baghdad.

He formed the militant group in Salaheddin and Diyala provinces north of the Iraqi capital before joining al Qaeda in Iraq.

Al-Baghdadi was detained for four years in Camp Bucca, which was a U.S.-run prison in southern Iraq. He was released in 2009.

After ISIS declared the creation of the so-called "Islamic State," he began using the name Al-Khalifah Ibrahim, and now goes by that name with his followers.

Timeline: 2004 - Abu Musab al-Zarqawi establishes al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

2006 - Under al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda in Iraq tries to ignite a sectarian war against the majority Shia community.

June 7, 2006 - Al-Zarqawi is killed in a U.S. strike. Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, takes his place as leader of AQI.

October 2006 - AQI leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri announces the creation of Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), and establishes Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as its leader.

April 2010 - Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi becomes leader of ISI after Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri are killed in a joint U.S.-Iraqi operation.

April 8, 2013 - ISI declares its absorption of an al Qaeda-backed militant group in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the al-Nusra Front. Al-Baghdadi says that his group will now be known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).

April 2013 - Al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani rejects ISIS's attempt to merge with the group.

February 3, 2014 - Al Qaeda renounces ties to ISIS after months of infighting between al-Nusra Front and ISIS.

May 2014 - ISIS kidnaps more than 140 Kurdish schoolboys in Syria, forcing them to take lessons in radical Islamic theology.

June 9, 2014 - Monday night into Tuesday, militants seize Mosul's airport, its TV stations and the governor's office. ISIS frees up to 1,000 prisoners.

June 10, 2014 - ISIS takes control of Mosul.

June 11, 2014 - ISIS takes control of Tikrit.

June 21, 2014 - ISIS takes control of Al-Qaim, a town on the border with Syria, as well as three other Iraqi towns.

June 28, 2014 - Iraqi Kurdistan restricts border crossings into the region for refugees fleeing the fighting.

June 29, 2014 - ISIS announces the creation of a caliphate (Islamic state) that erases all state borders, making al-Baghdadi the self-declared authority over the world's estimated 1.5 billion Muslims. The group also announces a name change to the Islamic State (IS).

June 30, 2014 - The United Nations announces that an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis have been forced from their homes.

June 30, 2014 - The Pentagon announces the United States is sending an additional 300 troops to Iraq, bringing the total U.S. forces in Iraq to nearly 800. Troops and military advisers sent to Iraq are there to add security to the U.S. Embassy and the airport in Baghdad, and to provide support to Iraqi security forces.

July 2014 - In Syria, all the cities between Deir Ezzor city and the Iraq border have fallen to ISIS, says Omar Abu Leila, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army.

July 3, 2014 - ISIS takes control of a major Syrian oil field, al-Omar. It is the country's largest oil field and can produce 75,000 barrels of oil daily.

July 17, 2014 - In Syria's Homs province, ISIS claims to have killed 270 people after storming and seizing the Shaer gas field.

July 24, 2014 - ISIS militants blow up Jonah's tomb, a holy site in Mosul.

August 8, 2014 - Two U.S. F/A-18 jet fighters bomb artillery of Sunni Islamic extremists in Iraq. President Barack Obama has authorized "targeted airstrikes" if needed to protect U.S. personnel from fighters with ISIS. The U.S. military also could use airstrikes to prevent what officials warn could be a genocide of minority groups by the ISIS fighters.

August 19, 2014 - In a video posted on YouTube, U.S. journalist James Foley, missing in Syria since 2012, is decapitated by ISIS militants. The militants then threaten the life of another captured U.S. journalist, believed to be Steven Sotloff.

September 2, 2014 - ISIS releases a video showing the beheading of U.S. journalist Steven Sotloff. Sotloff's apparent executioner speaks in what sounds like the same British accent as the man who purportedly killed Foley. He's dressed identically in both videos, head to toe in black, with a face mask and combat boots. He appears to be of similar build and height. He waves a knife in his left hand, as did the militant in the video of Foley's death.

September 11, 2014 - The CIA announces that the number of people fighting for ISIS may be more than three times the previous estimates. Analysts and U.S. officials initially estimated there were as many as 10,000 fighters, but now ISIS can "muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria," a CIA spokesman tells CNN.

September 13, 2014 - ISIS militants post video on a website associated with the group, showing the apparent execution of British aid worker David Haines. This makes him the third Western captive to be killed by the Islamist extremist group in recent weeks. ISIS directs a statement at British Prime Minister David Cameron, threatening more destruction if Britian continues its "evil alliance with America." At the end of the video, the executioner threatens the life of Alan Henning, another British citizen held captive. The executioner appears to be the same one who killed both Steven Sotloff and James Foley.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

USS George H.W. Bush, USS Arleigh Burke among U.S. forces striking Syria