U.S.-Arab Strikes in Syria Cause Serious Damage to ISIS & AQ

The U.S. and five Arab partners began airstrikes on the Islamic State (more commonly known by the acronym of ISIS) on September 22 and have done serious damage. Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, was unexpectedly hit by the U.S. and jihadist pages reported the deaths of top leaders.

The initial airstrikes in Raqqa, Syria, the home base of ISIS, were caught on videotape. You can see it here on the Clarion Project YouTube channel.

The airstrikes were not carried out by the U.S. alone. The Arab countries of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates took part. Qatar assisted logistically. France, which previously bombed ISIS in Iraq, did not take part.

Egypt declined in part because the U.S. would not endorse its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and against Ansar al-Sharia in Libya. The Turkish Prime Minister says his country may provide logistical and military support now that its 49 hostages have been released by ISIS as part of a secret deal with the terrorist group.

There were no serious protests against the U.S.-Arab airstrikes.

There was a small demonstration in Istanbul, Turkey. Significantly, a U.S.-backed “moderate” group of Syrian rebels named Harakat Hazm condemned the airstrikes, even though the U.S. has provided it with anti-tank missiles. An Arab newspaper reports that it is backed by the Muslim Brotherhood (the parent group of Hamas), Qatar and Turkey.

The author reported that jihadist social media pages were insistent that al-Nusra sites had been struck in the cities of Kafr Deryan and Idlib near Aleppo. This was confirmed by the Pentagon the next day.

Shortly after al-Nusra was hit, a video of an English-speaking, European member of al-Nusra in front of a destroyed site surfaced online. The terrorist, who said al-Nusra fights to “implement the law of Allah,” was audibly discouraged. He says, “A lot of mujahideen have been killed in these attacks.”

The U.S. has confirmed that it targeted al-Nusra’s Khorasan unit, a group of top Al-Qaeda operatives sent by Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri to recruit holders of Western passports. The U.S. says Khorasan was in the final stages of an attack in Europe or the U.S. The group is known to be targeting airliners with non-metallic bombs.

Khorasan includes explosives experts trained by Ibrahim al-Asiri, an Al-Qaeda operative in Yemen that has been described as “the most innovative bomb-builder in the jihadist world.” He is focused on making bombs that can sneak past airport security and designed the underwear bomb and ink cartridge bombs that almost destroyed U.S. airliners.

Jihadist social media pages are reporting that the Khorasan unit’s leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, was killed. These accounts acknowledge that he came from the top tier of Al-Qaeda.

He fought in Chechnya and became a close aide to Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. He began working with Al-Qaeda in Iraq, then led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and was a major fundraiser for the affiliate. Al-Fadhli was one of the few who were given advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks.

He moved to Iran in 2009 to help operate an Al-Qaeda pipeline for funneling money and weapons that operates with Iranian permission. Al-Fadhli became the top overseer of the pipeline in 2011 and moved to Syria last year.

Jihadist pages also said that Abu Yousef al-Turki, described as Jabhat al-Nusra’s top sniper, was killed. He is said to have fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A propaganda video showcasing al-Nusra’s sniper unit trained by al-Tukri was subsequently distributed among supporters.

Photos of the strikes on al-Nusra targets show the precision of the U.S. munitions and strength of American intelligence. The aircraft knew exactly which buildings to destroy and did so with minimal damage to surrounding structures.

U.S. strikes on al-Nusra have been limited to the Khorasan unit. It is unclear if the entirety of the Al-Qaeda affiliate is being targeted.

The airstrikes on ISIS were focused on Raqqa, Deir al-Zour, Hasakah and Abu Kamal. It struck government buildings and military installations taken over by ISIS and used as command posts, as well as training camps, weapons depots and a structure used for financing the group.

ISIS normally has tight messaging and coordinated online responses. Its 55-minute documentary is an example of its media prowess. However, in the wake of the airstrikes, pro-ISIS accounts seemed scattered and tried to downplay their impact with poorly-disguised anxiety. There were far-fetched claims of U.S. and Arab aircraft being shot down and pilots captured.

The ISIS supporters responded with predictable chest-pounding and characterized the group’s mere survival as a victory. Several boasted of how the group was able to turn the power back on in Raqqa; a rather low standard of achievement.

ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra supporters are trying to paint the U.S. as disregarding civilian life, a caricature disproven by the aforementioned airstrikes using highly-expensive precision-guided munitions. Expect ISIS and al-Nusra to take a page out of the Hamas playbook to rile up anger against the U.S. and its Arab partners.

They tried to encourage each other by predicting that the day would soon come when they can fight U.S. combat troops on the ground.  The Obama Administration has ruled out the possibility of U.S. troops in an official combat role. The Iraqi government has likewise ruled it out.

ISIS backers are also trying to boost morale by redirecting attention onto their fight against the Syrian Kurds. ISIS has captured 60 Kurdish villages near the Turkish border, prompting an exodus of 200,000 residents from the area as ISIS approaches the city of Kobane. ISIS has released a video with footage of its offensive.

The Kurds stopped the ISIS advance shortly before the airstrikes began, but the Kurdish leadership says its defensive lines will only hold for days unless airpower is used to save the city. They predict a massacre if U.S. does not immediately intervene.

The U.S.-Arab airstrikes are helping to undermine the ISIS and Al-Nusra narrative that Allah is blessing their jihadis with success, but ISIS is able to maintain morale by pointing to its attacks on the Kurds and its capture of an Iraqi army base in Anbar Province that is described as “the most disastrous day for the Iraqi army” since ISIS captured Mosul and blitzed across the country.

It is strategically and morally inexcusable for the U.S. to allow the Kurds to suffer like this, especially when American aircrafts are already in the sky. It is time to save the Kurds, our most reliable ally against ISIS and Al-Qaeda. 




Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on Fox News.


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