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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Obama's air strikes in Syria - a first look

What follows is information that has come my way in the few hours since the United States and its five Arab allies - Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirate, Bahrain and Qatar began air operations in Syria. Most of this information is "unvetted" so I'm not vouching for it, but since it goes further and is almost certainly more accurate than the dribble being put out by CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC and their instant experts, I thought I'd share it with you.

From Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office correspondent in ‪‎Hasakah‬ we have this early report:
American‬ missiles hit ISIS military camp

Revolutionary Forces of Syria
Media Office correspondent in Hasakah confirmed that the international coalition used American Tomahawk missiles to bombard ISIS military camp of al-Bahra al-Khatoniyah located to the east of al-Houl near the Syrian-Iraqi boarders. The missile attack was followed by Sukhoi air strikes and vacuum missiles attacks. Our correspondent added that the camp was severely destroyed and no civilian casualties were reported in the area.

EAWorldView has always produced very creditable reports about events in Syria, this is their first report, check them for frequent updates:
Syria Daily: US Airstrikes & Missiles Hit Islamic State

By Scott Lucas September 23, 2014 11:17
UPDATE 1145 GMT: General Martin Dempsey, the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has hailed airstrikes as a success: “We wanted to make sure that ISIL knew they have no safe haven, and we certainly achieved that.”

Dempsey played up the claimed involvement of Arab states — Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar — in the operations as proof of a coalition effort:
Once we had one of them on board, the others followed quickly thereafter. We now have a kind of credible campaign against [the Islamic State] that includes a coalition of partners.

UPDATE 1115 GMT: The Russian Foreign Ministry has condemned the US airstrikes:
Attempts to pursue own geopolitical goals through violating the sovereignty of other states only escalates tensions and aggravates the situation even further. Moscow has repeatedly warned that those who initiated one-sided military scenarios bear full international legal responsibility for the consequences.

Moscow has repeatedly warned that those who initiated one-sided military scenarios bear full international legal responsibility for the consequences.

UPDATE 0730 GMT: Unconfirmed claims are circulating that the US airstrikes have also hit a headquarters of the Islamist faction Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo Province, causing casualties.

Jabhat al-Nusra split with the Islamic State in spring 2013 over a dispute about leadership of the jihadist movement in Syria. The faction fights alongside the main Syrian insurgent blocs, but it is still on the US list of terrorist organizations.

However, the US Central Command indicated that its target is the Khorasan Group, a small faction identified as an enemy last week by the US Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

Central Command announced, “The United States has also taken action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned Al Qa’eda veterans — sometimes referred to as the Khorasan Group — who have established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations.”

The Command said it carried out eight strikes against Khorasan Group targets west of Aleppo, including training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building, and command and control facilities.

US intelligence said Khorasan is led by Muhsin al Fadhli, a Kuwaiti whom it claims was Al Qa’eda’s “senior representative” in Iran. The Americans say al-Fadhli arrived in Syria in April 2013 and began working with Jabhat al-Nusra, but subsequently split from the organization.

The US also claims that Khorasan also includes Abd Al-Rahman Muhammad al-Juhni, a Saudi national designated by the Treasury as “part of a group of senior Al Qa’eda members in Syria formed to conduct external operations against Western targets”.
Peter Clifford closely follows the military situation in Syria and his reports have always proven to be accurate in the past. This is his first report:

For the very 1st time, US forces, backed by Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), attacked Islamic State targets in Syria last night, around 8.30pm Eastern Time in the US, 1.30am (Tuesday) GMT.

The attack started with the launch of Tomahawk missiles from the destroyer USS Arleigh Burke positioned in the Red Sea, followed by F-18 aircraft flying off the USS George H. W. Bush in the Persian Gulf.

B-1 bombers, F-16s, F-18s and Predator drones where also used in the assault, some of them flown by Arab nations, though the full details are not yet available.

The first wave of attacks lasted 90 minutes with other attacks over the course of several hours. Confirmation of the attacks has come from sources in the Islamic State main base in Syria at Raqqah and several amateur mobile phone videos appeared on the web including this one:

The Pentagon is denying that there were any civilian causalities, and the media isn't reporting them, but of course there were:

But as I have learned by being a close observer of this conflict from the beginning, few things are what they seem at first glance and people who I have come to trust are raising serious questions about who is really behind some of these attacks:

The surprise was that the first attacks were not against ISIS but against Khorasan, a group I'd never heard about before Obama targeted them, which has been described as formerly with al Nusra Front. Many questions remain about this group and this strike. This tweet raises one of them:
Some have questioned how "imminent" this threat could have been if the operatives were still in Syria, while others have pointed out that the Pentagon has a very flexible definition of "imminent":
an "imminent" threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.
While al Nusra shares many of the same jihadist views of ISIS, it is a largely Syrian group and has been actively fighting ISIS. If this group that Obama struck is or was associated with al Nusra, we can only hope that it doesn't prove counter productive:

The Independent has an informative article about Khorasan:
Khorasan: Muhsin al-Fadhli - the man leading a terror group more feared by US officials than Isis

Discussions of the terror plot were almost always discreet. So when the towers burned that September day, many al-Qaeda operatives didn’t know of their group’s involvement. Only Osama bin Laden and several top commanders knew the truth.

Now, more than 13 years later, one of those commanders is back and perhaps more dangerous than ever. On Sept. 11, 2001, Muhsin al-Fadhli had been barely more than a boy, aged 19. But today the steely-eyed 33-year-old operative is in Syria, leading a group of clandestine al-Qaeda operatives called “Khorasan,” which some American officials said may be more dangerous in some respects than the Islamic State.

Khorasan hasn’t arrived to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. It’s not interested laying claim to great swaths of land and resources, as is the Islamic State. Rather, American officials told the Associated Press, its members have come from Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan to exploit the flood of Western jihadists who now have skin in the fight — and possess very valuable passports. According to the AP, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri dispatched this deputy to recruit those Western fighters, who have a better chance of escaping scrutiny at airports and could place bombs onto planes. More...
Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad's air war against Syrian civilians continues. Obama doesn't interfere with them, and Assad doesn't try to stop the US air strikes:

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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