U.S., Allies Hit islamic State Targets In Syria
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The United States has expanded its air campaign against ISIS. Airstrikes involving the U.S. and Arab allies struck the capital of the group that beheaded at least two Americans. The Pentagon says fighter planes, bombers and missiles struck the group's self-proclaimed capital, which is in Syria. Until now the U.S. had confined its air campaign to Iraq, and this is the first time the air campaign has extended to the civil war-torn country next door. NPR's Deborah Amos is covering this story from the Turkish-Syria border. And Deb what were the targets in this capital city rock-out?
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Inside the city one of the targets was this governor building that ISIS has taken over - painted it black - so it wasn't hard to target. That was one target near a hospital. Also outside the city Syrian military bases that had been taken over by ISIS were also hit this morning. We talked to activists inside the city. They heard the strikes early in the morning. What they say is that ISIS personnel have essentially moved out of those buildings and are starting to move into homes, embedding themselves in the civilian population. So there weren't many dead, although some checkpoints were hit in Raqqa. Also D'Azur, which is in the east of the country, was hit.
INSKEEP: OK. So a different extremist group inside Syria was also struck. Although you talked about ISIS leaders moving into homes, and also talked about a strike near a hospital; a reminder that airstrikes like this have to be almost perfectly done in order for there to not be some criticism for civilian casualties.
AMOS: As of now, there has been no reported casualties in Raqqa. There have been three by the Syrian Observatory, which is an organization in London that has activists on the ground, that's a remarkably low number.
INSKEEP: The U.S. has said that five Arab allies took part in this operation. What did they do?
AMOS: It's reported that they took part in the airstrikes. This is Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan. Qatar played a supporting role. That is interesting because Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been at odds over policy in Syria. So that apparently was patched up. Now it's important for Washington, for a political optics. These are Sunni-Arab governments who are joining in a U.S. airstrike against a Sunni-Arab militant movement that also threatens them. This is an unprecedented coalition. This morning Jordan was the first of these governments to acknowledge taking part in the airstrikes.
INSKEEP: Well, you're touching on one complexity here because you have Sunnis who now say they're willing to strike out against this group that claims to be the leadership of all Sunnis. Let's talk about another complexity - Syria of course is in the midst of a Civil War. I'm thinking of it as a triangle with Bashar al-Assad, the president, in one corner, more moderate rebels in another corner and ISIS off in its corner now being struck. What does it mean for Bashar al-Assad that one of his enemies is now being attacked by the United States?
AMOS: Look, I think we don't really know yet, but this certainly is a new phase in this war. And we will have to see how all of the players react to what has happened. It is noteworthy that the Syrian official media announced early this morning that the - Syria was informed of these strikes. That hasn't been confirmed in Washington. But SANA, which is the Syrian government state media, reported that their UN representative in New York was told of these strikes. The Syrian opposition also released a statement early this morning welcoming those strikes. It suggests that they knew that they were coming. So this is a new phase, all the players are trying to react to this new landscape.
INSKEEP: Wouldn't the Syrians pretend they'd been informed even if they hadn't been? They can pretend that the U.S. is secretly their ally?
AMOS: I think it's really hard to know, but they were very quick to put that statement out.
INSKEEP: And what is ISIS saying about their capital being bombed, by the way?
AMOS: They were also quick to react. First reaction comes out when a Reuters reporter contacts the spokesman. They condemned the strikes, that's not a surprise. What is interesting is they singled out Saudi Arabia. They blame them for letting it happen. We now have early reports that ISIS has released a video with one of their hostages. John Cantlie, a British photographer, who was kidnapped almost two years ago. He was condemning the strike, and on Monday ISIS issued a statement calling on all of its supporters to kill Americans, Europeans and French anywhere they could find them.
INSKEEP: Deborah, thanks very much.
AMOS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Deborah Amos.
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