US Airstrikes Begin In Syria Against ISIS

Monday, September 22nd 2014, 9:42 pm
By: News 9

The U.S. military has begun airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, CBS News has confirmed.

Pentagon Press Secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement Monday evening that a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles were engaged in the attack.

"The decision to conduct theses strikes was made earlier today by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander in chief," Kirby said.

Details about the targets were unclear, but according to social media chatter coming out of Syria, strikes were conducted in the city of Raqqa. Video purporting to show the strike there was surfaced on YouTube, although its authenticity has not been independently verified.

Since Aug. 8, the U.S. has launched nearly 200 strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq. That increased military assistance, including the deployment of more than 1,600 U.S. advisers, has helped Iraqi and Kurdish security forces stem the tide of ISIS' advance, though serious challenges remain.

Over the last several weeks, during which ISIS militants have beheaded two American journalists and a British aid worker, President Obama signaled America's intention to broaden its campaign against the extremist group into Syria. Surveillance flights to gather intelligence on potential targets in Syrian territory were authorized in late August.

Throughout the ongoing operations, Mr. Obama has been steadfast in his insistence that the U.S. would not put boots on the ground in their fight against ISIS. Instead, the U.S. will rely on local forces in Iraq and moderate rebels in Syria to fight the extremists.

Last week, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved arming and training moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS militants, though the go-ahead is good for less than three months.

After gathering strength and territory in Syria, ISIS militants seized Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, in June and embarked on an aggressive offensive across northern Iraq, forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes and coming dangerously close to heavily populated cities in Iraq's Kurdish region.

In the Sunni-majority territory of Anbar province, the group quickly capitalized on long-standing grievances against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, earning support from local populations.

Throughout their offensive, ISIS has used a sophisticated propaganda operation, harnessing social media and digital technology to both instill fear in target populations and bolster recruitment of jihadists from the region and the West. According to recent U.S. intelligence estimates, ISIS could currently muster up to roughly 30,000 fighters in Syria and Iraq.

The group, which formally declared itself an Islamic state in June, is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and is based on a rigid Islamic ideology. Most of its funding comes from robbery, extortion and smuggling operations, in addition to outside funding. It also levies taxes on electricity and gasoline in the territories it controls.

Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, backed by U.S. airstrikes, were able to retake the strategic Mosul Dam and several small towns since airstrikes began. However, serious challenges remain, since many of the Islamic State fighters have taken refuge in busy cities with high civilian populations, such as Fallujah and Mosul.

In northern Iraq, Kurdish fighters battling the Sunni militant group have begun receiving training from Western allies, including the United States, as they seek to beef up their capabilities, a top Kurdish security official said Monday.

Helgurd Hikmet, general director of the ministry overseeing Kurdish military forces known as peshmerga, said that France, Italy and Germany are also among countries providing training to help Kurdish forces use new machine guns, mortars, rockets and demining robots they have received.

"We asked all our allies, when they provided us with new weapons, that these weapons need training," Hikmet told The Associated Press Monday. "So now all the allies that provided us with those weapons are providing us with training."

Last week, the French joined in the aerial campaign. A number of European countries have also committed to arming the Kurds and providing humanitarian support for more than a million people displaced by the onslaught of the militant group.

In addition, key Arab allies of the United States - Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon - have pledged to help in the battle against ISIS militants, promising to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the insurgents and possibly to join military action.

Stay with News 9 and for more on this developing story.