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General: No Safe Haven for Militants   09/23 06:22

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Combined U.S.-Arab airstrikes at the heart of the Islamic 
State group's military strongholds in Syria achieved their strategic aim of 
showing the extremists that their savage attacks will not go unanswered, the 
top American military officer said Tuesday.

   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.

   "We wanted to make sure that ISIL knew they have no safe haven, and we 
certainly achieved that," Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with a small group of reporters as he 
flew to Washington after a weeklong trip to Europe. ISIL is an alternate 
acronym for the Islamic State group whose fighters swept across much of Iraq 
this summer.

   U.S. officials said five Arab nations either participated in the airstrikes 
or provided unspecified support. They were Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan 
and the United Arab Emirates. Dempsey said their role was indispensable to the 
U.S. goal of showing that the battle to degrade and defeat the Islamic State 
group is not just a U.S. fight.

   "I can't overstate" the importance of the Arab role, he said. He called it 
an unprecedented coalition with Arab states and said the partnering has set the 
stage for a broader international campaign against the extremists.

   Dempsey said the five Arab nations' agreement to join in the airstrikes came 
together quickly; as recently as Sunday he told reporters that more Arab 
participation was needed before President Barack Obama would sign off on the 
strategic air campaign.

   "Once we had one of them on board, the others followed quickly thereafter," 
he said, adding that the partnership came together over the past three days. 
"We now have a kind of credible campaign against ISIL that includes a coalition 
of partners."

   Several hours after the Pentagon announced the airstrikes against Islamic 
State targets, U.S. Central Command said American warplanes also launched eight 
airstrikes "to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States 
and Western interests" by a network of "seasoned al-Qaida veterans" --- 
sometimes known as the Khorasan Group --- who have established a haven in 
Syria. It provided no details on the plotting.

   Central Command said that separate bombing mission was undertaken solely by 
U.S. aircraft and took place west of the Syrian city of Aleppo. It said targets 
included training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a 
communication building and command and control facilities.

   The airstrikes against Islamic State targets were carried out in the city of 
Raqqa and other areas in eastern Syria. The strikes 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.

   The airstrikes began around 8:30 p.m. EDT. Central Command said the U.S. 
fired 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles from aboard the USS Arleigh Burke and USS 
Philippine Sea, operating from international waters in the Red Sea and the 
northern Persian Gulf. U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter jets, 
drones and bombers also participated.

   Syria's Foreign Ministry said the U.S. informed Syria's envoy to the U.N. 
that "strikes will be launched against the terrorist Daesh group in Raqqa." The 
statement used an Arabic name to refer to the Islamic State group.

   At a conference on Sept. 11 with Secretary of State John Kerry, key Arab 
allies promised they would "do their share" to fight the Islamic State 
militants. The Obama administration, which at a NATO meeting in Wales earlier 
this month also got commitments from European allies as well as Canada and 
Australia, has insisted that the fight against the Islamic State militants 
could not be the United States' fight alone.

   Russia's foreign ministry warned Tuesday that what it called "unilateral" 
air strikes would destabilize the region. "The fight against terrorists in the 
Middle East and northern Africa requires coordinated efforts of the entire 
global community under the auspices of the U.N.," the foreign ministry said in 
a statement.

   Activists said the airstrikes hit targets in and around the Syrian 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 that there 
are casualties among Islamic State group members."

   He added that missiles also targeted the towns of Tabqa, Ein Issa and Tel 
Abyad, as well as the village of Kfar Derian, which is a base for the 
al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, a rival of the Islamic State group.

   Another activist, Mohammed al-Dughaim, based in the northern Syrian province 
of Idlib, confirmed that several airstrikes hit Kfar Derian in the early hours 
of Tuesday. He said there were civilians among the casualties.

   An amateur video posted online Tuesday shows explosions going off at night 
in an open area, blasts that are said to be from coalition airstrikes. The 
narrator in the video is heard saying that the footage shows the "bombardment 
of the Kfar Derian village."

   The head of the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group, Hadi Bahra, 
welcomed the commencement of airstrikes in Syria.

   "We have called for airstrikes such as those that commenced tonight with a 
heavy heart and deep concern, as these strikes begin in our own homeland," he 
said in a statement. "We insist that utmost care is taken to avoid civilian 
casualties."

   Dempsey repeatedly stressed the importance of having Arab participation and 
said it needs to extend beyond direct military roles to assisting in an 
international effort to undercut finances, recruiting and ideological support 
for the Islamic State group.

   "What we're talking about now is the beginning of an air campaign," he said, 
adding that it must lead to what he called "the other air campaign" --- an 
effort to fill public airwaves across the Muslim world with arguments for why 
the extremists must be defeated.

   "These leaders now need to --- and will --- take on the responsibility to 
explain to the populace of the Arab-Muslim world why we're doing what we're 
doing so that we can strip away the cloak of religious legitimacy that ISIL has 
wrapped itself in," he said.

   In a speech Sept. 10, Obama vowed to go after the Islamic State militants 
wherever they may be. His military and defense leaders told Congress last week 
that airstrikes within Syria are meant to disrupt the group's momentum and 
provide time for the U.S. and allies to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.

   The U.S. military has been launching targeted airstrikes in Iraq since 
August, focusing specifically on attacks to protect U.S. interests and 
personnel, assist Iraqi refugees and secure critical infrastructure. Last week, 
as part of the newly expanded campaign, the U.S. began going after militant 
targets across Iraq, including enemy fighters, outposts, equipment and weapons.

   To date, U.S. fighter aircraft, bombers and drones have launched about 190 
airstrikes within Iraq.

   Urged on by the White House and U.S. defense and military officials, 
Congress passed legislation late last week authorizing the military to arm and 
train moderate Syrian rebels. Obama signed the bill into law Friday, providing 
$500 million for the U.S. to train about 5,000 rebels over the next year.

   The militant group, meanwhile, has threatened retribution. Its spokesman, 
Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said in a 42-minute audio statement released Sunday 
that the fighters were ready to battle the U.S.-led military coalition and 
called for attacks at home and abroad.


(KA)


 
 
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