A US-led coalition carried out airstrikes against positions of al-Qaeda Syria affiliate al-Nusra Front on Tuesday, as well as the Islamic State group, a monitoring organization said.
At the same time, US planes took unilateral action against the shadowy Khorasan group of former al-Qaeda members to thwart a planned terror attack, American officials said.
US Central Command said American warplanes launched eight airstrikes “to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests” by a network of “seasoned al-Qaeda 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 the separate bombing mission was undertaken solely by US 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 strikes were part of the expanded military campaign that US President Barack Obama authorized nearly two weeks ago in order to disrupt and destroy the Islamic State terror group.
While the United States has designated Nusra as a terror group, Washington has focused most efforts on combating Islamic State, whose fighters have slaughtered thousands of people, beheaded Westerners — including two American journalists — and captured large swaths of Syria and northern and western Iraq.
The coalition strikes against Nusra hit an area in western Aleppo province, killing at least 15 people — eight civilians and seven Nusra militants, according to the British based-Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The group is one of a number of rebel outfits that recently grabbed control of areas alongside the Israeli border, forcing UN peacekeepers to flee and raising tensions in the Golan Heights.
Nusra has fought against IS in parts of Syria, and has also battled alongside moderate and Islamist rebels against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Although Obama has avoided deploying US troops on the ground, the coalition strikes in Syria indicate a significant increase in US military involvement in the Middle East.
The airstrikes against Islamic State targets were carried out in the city of Raqqa and other areas in eastern Syria by a mix of manned aircraft — fighter jets and bombers — plus Tomahawk cruise missiles and drone aircraft.
In its written statement detailing the operation, Central Command said the airstrikes, which officials said began around 8:30 p.m. EDT, were conducted by the US, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. It said the five Arab partner countries “participated in or supported” the airstrikes against Islamic State targets. It was not more specific.
Central Command said the US 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. US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter jets, drones and bombers also participated.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the US informed Syria’s envoy to the UN 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.
The White House announced the airstrikes hours before Obama traveled to New York for the UN General Assembly, where he is expected to secure his coalition of Arab nations in the fight against the Islamic State.