U.S., allies strike ISIS, Khorasan in Syria

U.S., allies strike ISIS, Khorasan in Syria

Lt. Gen. William Mayville. briefs reporters at the Pentagon on the three waves of strikes in Syria.
by CNN's Steve Almasy

The Pentagon has released details on airstrikes in Northern and Eastern Syria, which began early Tuesday.  In addition to Tomahawk cruise missiles, the U.S. and its coalition also employed fighter jets, bombers and drones in the campaign to destabilize two separate terror groups in Syria: ISIS and the Khorasan Group, which consists of "senior al Qaeda operatives" who were actively plotting against a U.S. homeland target and Western targets, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday. Follow this live blog for the latest updates on the strikes. You can also read our full story.
  • Which area was hit?

    The bombing has focused on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, a city in northern Syria. ISIS has had control of Raqqa for more than a year, imposing its brutal interpretation of Islamic law on the city's residents.

    The extremists have made the city, which sits on the banks of the Euphrates River, the de facto capital of their self-declared "Islamic State" that stretches across large areas of Syria and Iraq.

    Other locations in Syria were also hit in the strikes, a senior U.S. official said, without providing details.

  • What was struck?

    Most of the places hit were hard targets, like buildings, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

    "Usually the first part of any air campaign are strategic targets -- fixed locations, big buildings, things that you don't need a guy on the ground to laser-designate," said retired Lt. Col. Rick Francona, an Air Force veteran intelligence officer and CNN military analyst.

    A building in the governor's compound, a post office and a recruitment center were among sites hit, activists reported.

    There was no immediate word on casualties.

  • Why is Raqqa the focus of the initial strikes?

    The city is known as a place where ISIS houses training centers, weapons depots and accommodations for fighters. During the Syrian conflict, the group has also seized military bases from the Syrian regime near the city and in the wider Raqqa province.

    The targets hit by the airstrikes are intended to hurt ISIS' ability to command and control, resupply and train, a senior U.S. military official told CNN's Jim Sciutto.

    ISIS has made Raqqa the flagship for its model of governance, providing food, fuel and security to people struggling to survive after years of civil war. But it also imposed hardline Islamist law there and metes out harsh punishment to those who don't follow orders. Locals started calling the city Tora Bora last year, saying it felt as if the Taliban of Afghanistan had taken over.

  • Who is taking part in the airstrikes?

    All the foreign partners participating in the strikes with the United States are Arab countries, a senior U.S. military official told CNN. Those nations are Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

    Diplomatic sources told CNN that Qatar was also involved in the operation, although it wasn't clear whether it actually carried out airstrikes.

    "It's a remarkable diplomatic achievement," said CNN Political Commentator Peter Beinhart. "I don't think it was expected that there would be this much Arab support."

  • How long will the attacks go on?

    For a while.

    The first wave of strikes was expected to last into the early hours of Tuesday morning in Syria, CNN's Sciutto reported.

    It is aimed at striking a strong initial blow, a senior U.S. official told CNN. The aerial campaign on ISIS targets in Syria is expected to continue beyond Tuesday.

    Counterterrorism expert Philip Mudd said Tuesday's attacks were "just the start."

    "This is not a definitive blow," said Mudd, who previously worked for the CIA. "When this gets interesting to me as a former practitioner is six months down the road, when a second-tier ISIS commander starts to create some sort of cell to recruit foreigners from Europe or the United States or Canada into Syria, do we still have the will and capability, and the intelligence, to locate that person, or that group of people, and put lead on the target?"

  • What happens next?

    U.S. military officials will be trying to assess the effectiveness of the first night of bombing.

    Some analysts have suggested that ISIS had already started dispersing its assets and fighters following Obama's warning of action in Syria earlier this month.

    The response of ISIS fighters to the initial strikes may give military officials clues on what to target next.

    "The follow-up to some of these strikes is -- what are their actions now?" said retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, a CNN military analyst. "There is intelligence that flows from the initial strike," he said.

    The Arab governments involved in the strikes could also face discontent among their own people.

    "Parts of the population do not agree with Sunni (Muslims) going against Sunni," Hertling said.

    The United States is also pushing for a binding resolution at the U.N. General Assembly this week that aims to prevent and track the travel of foreign fighters to Syria.

  • How has ISIS reacted?

    There was no immediate confirmed comment from the militant group on the strikes.

    ISIS' official Bayan Radio tweeted a photo that it claimed showed damage to a communications tower in Raqqa. CNN wasn't immediately able to independently verify the image.

    ISIS has previously linked the U.S. campaign of airstrikes in Iraq to its decision to execute three of its Western hostages -- two Americans and one Briton. It also recently called for attacks against the United States and its allies.

  • How have Syrian opposition groups reacted?

    Hadi al Bahra, the President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, welcomed the strikes.

    "Tonight, the international community has joined our fight against ISIS in Syria," he said in a statement. "We have called for airstrikes such as those that commenced tonight with a heavy heart and deep concern, as these strikes begin in our own homeland. We insist that utmost care is taken to avoid civilian casualties."

  • Did the U.S. consult with the Syrian government beforehand?

    A U.S. official says it didn't coordinate nor warn President Bashar al-Assad about the attacks. But the regime claims it was given a heads-up.

    "According to the Syrian Foreign Ministry, the American side informed the Syrian representative to the U.N. yesterday that the U.S. will carry out airstrikes targeting the terrorist organization (ISIS) in Raqqa," said a banner on the website of the Syrian government's official news agency, SANA.

    Beinhart said al-Assad's regime may end up as "the real winner" from the airstrikes on ISIS, since the moderate U.S.-backed rebels aren't "in a position to take this territory that we are pulverizing from the air."

  • What are U.S. lawmakers saying?

    When the strikes began, Congress had already left town to campaign for the midterm elections, and most of the reaction came from those who had pressed the administration to act sooner. Privately, many of them conceded they were relieved not to have to take a vote on a controversial issue just weeks before voters went to the polls in November.

  • No. of airstrikes? At least 20

    Airstrikes have hit at least 20 different targets in Raqqa city and surrounding areas, a Syrian rights
    monitor reported Tuesday.

  • Jordan: 'We are part of the strike'
  • The scene in Raqqa: 
    ISIS has increased security in the city, an activist said. They're not in their offices but doing patrols on the streets. "I would dance in the streets," the activist said, "but I am too afraid. 

  • Stay tuned 2 @cnn 4 the latest on the #US led airstrikes on #ISIS in #Syria & the 5 #Arab nations involved. Details @http ://www.cnn.com/
  • Attack details

    Here's CENTcom's statement on the airtsrikes. It's rather long, but has some interesting details.

    -- All the planes in the attack left safely
    -- The attacks damaged multiple ISIS targets: training compounds, headquarters, storage facilities,   supply trucks and armed vehicles.

    "U.S. Military, Partner Nations Conduct Airstrikes Against ISIL in Syria

    TAMPA, Fla. - U.S. military forces and partner nations, including the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, undertook military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria overnight, using a mix of fighter, bomber, remotely piloted aircraft and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles to conduct 14 strikes against ISIL targets.

    The strikes destroyed or damaged multiple ISIL targets in the vicinity of Ar Raqqah, Dayr az Zawr, Al Hasakah, and Abu Kamal and included ISIL fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage facilities, a finance center, supply trucks and armed vehicles.

    To conduct these strikes, the United States employed 47 TLAMs launched from USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea operating from international waters in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf, as well as U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter, remotely piloted and bomber aircraft deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations. In addition, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates also participated in or supported the airstrikes against ISIL targets.  All aircraft safely exited the strike areas.

    Also, in Iraq yesterday, U.S. military forces continued to attack ISIL terrorists, using attack aircraft to conduct four airstrikes. The airstrikes destroyed two ISIL Humvees, an ISIL armed vehicle and an ISIL fighting position southwest of Kirkuk. All aircraft exited the strike areas safely. To date, U.S. Central Command has conducted a total of 194 airstrikes across Iraq against ISIL.

    The United States conducted these strikes as part of the President's comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.  Going forward, the U.S. military will continue to conduct targeted airstrikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq as local forces go on the offensive against this terrorist group.

    Separately, 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'ida 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. These strikes were undertaken only by U.S. assets.

    In total, U.S. Central Command conducted eight strikes against Khorasan Group targets west of Aleppo to include training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities."

  • CNN's Joe Johns talks about the types of targets and the ammo used in the airstrikes
  • Breaking: #Jordan says Royal Jordanian AF carried out air strikes against “terrorist groups” in #Syria due to infiltrations along border
  • Breaking: In addition to #ISIS US struck Al Qaeda-linked Khorosan group in #Syria "to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against US"
  • No. of anti-ISIS strikes carried out last night: 14
    That's according to CENTCom. A Syrian opposition group had told CNN earlier there were 20 strikes.
  • Twitter breaks news ... again: 

    If any doubts lingered over Twitter's capacity to break news first, the overnight raids launched by U.S. forces on Syria on Tuesday night offered another case study of what the microblogging site does best.

    Well before the first media accounts of the attack on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Abdulkader Hariri, a Twitter user in the town, tweeted the following. Here's our story

  • #Russia criticizes "unilateral use of force" by US on ally #Syria as Russian forces continue to occupy eastern #Ukraine
  • Russia lets its objection known

    Russia’s Foreign Ministry said today that airstrikes "may be carried out only within the framework of international law" and not with ‘a formal one-sided 'notification'"

  • Who's in? Who's not

    The campaign of airstrikes against ISIS in Syria has pitted several Arab countries into action alongside the United States. But there are also some notable absences. Here's the lowdown on who's taking part and why -- and who's staying on the sidelines.

  • USS Arleigh Burke launches Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles to combat ISIL
    by U.S. Navy via YouTube

    Tomahawk launch
    The US Navy just now released this video of Tomahawk launch and F/A-18 strikes against ISIL targets

  • Israel says it shot down Syrian warplane

    S. airstrikes against ISIS and
    al-Qaeda-linked Khorasan aren't the only major military news coming out of Syria and surrounding areas.

    Israel said Tuesday it shot down a Syrian warplane over the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights along the Israeli-Syrian border. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based activist group, said the Syrian fighter jet had been targeting something  near the Syrian town of Quneitra, site of the only Israel-Syria border crossing. The pilot escaped by parachute, it said.

    Some context: Syria's government and rebels are locked in a roughly three-year civil war, and rebels seized the Syrian side of the
    Quneitra crossing in late August. Rebels have been trying to  dislodge Syrian government forces from their last two strongholds in the area, the Observatory said.
  • Source: Khorasan was plotting attacks against U.S., West

    Some context about why the U.S. struck the al-Qaeda-linked Khorasan group as well as ISIS on Tuesday: Khorasan was actively plotting against a U.S. homeland target and Western targets, a senior U.S. official told CNN's Barbara Starr on Tuesday.

    Khorasan operatives were coming closer to the "end of their planning," and the threat was "imminent," the official said. The United States hoped for an element of surprise by mixing strikes against the Khorasan group with strikes against ISIS targets, according to the source. Further details about Khorasan's plans weren't immediately available.

  • Obama to speak about airstrikes

    Expect President Obama to make a statement this morning about the U.S. strikes against ISIS and Khorasan in Syria, a White House official says. We don't have the exact time, but Obama is expected to talk before he leaves Washington at 10:20 a.m. ET for New York, where he is to address the U.N. General Assembly later in the week.
  • Syria was told of airstrike plan, U.S. source says

    The Syrian regime was notified of the U.
    S. plan to take direct action against ISIS inside Syria, a senior State Department official told CNN's Jim Sciutto on Tuesday. The United States did not seek the regime's permission, nor did it coordinate with the Syrian government, the source said, adding that Secretary of State John Kerry did not send a letter to the regime.

    On state-run media, Syria said its U.
    N. representative was informed Monday that the U.S. and some of its allies would target ISIS. Syria also said its foreign minister "received a letter from his American counterpart delivered by the Iraqi foreign minister which informed him that 'the U.S. will target the positions of the ISIS terrorist organization, some of which are in Syria.' "
  • The ISIS and Khorasan airstrikes: A recap

    Here are highlights of what we know:

    -- The U.S. and some Arab partners struck ISIS targets in Syria overnight, "using a mix of fighter, bomber, remotely piloted aircraft and Tomahawk land attack missiles to conduct 14 strikes," the Pentagon said Tuesday.

    -- The U.S.'s partners in the ISIS strikes were Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the Pentagon said.

    -- The number of casualties in the ISIS strikes was not immediately clear. But U.S. Central Command said the 14 ISIS strikes damaged or destroyed targets including fighters, training compounds, command-and-control facilities, a finance center and supply trucks.

    -- Some of the ISIS targets were in Raqqa, ISIS' declared capital, the Pentagon said. For months, civilians in Raqqa have been living under the harsh rule of ISIS after militants took over their city, which had been one of Syria's most liberal cities.

    -- Separately, the United States conducted eight strikes against the Khorasan group west of Aleppo, Syria, the Pentagon said. Only the U.S. military conducted these strikes, according to the Pentagon.

    -- The United States says the Khorasan group is a network of seasoned al Qaeda veterans focused on conducting attacks against U.S. and Western interests.

    -- As noted in this blog earlier, Khorasan was plotting against a target in the United States and other Western targets, and the threat was "imminent," a senior U.S. official told CNN's Barbara Starr on Tuesday.
  • Obama to speak at 10 a.m. ET

    We know have the time for President Obama's statement at the White House's south lawn: 10 a.m. ET., according to the White House. CNN will carry it live.

    Obama will talk about the U.
    S. strategy against ISIS, a White House official said earlier this morning.
  • Two dozen aircraft used in strikes

    So far, the U.S. and its partners have dropped 200 pieces of ordnance in their strikes against ISIS and Khorasan, a U.S. official tells CNN's Barbara Starr.

    The coalition has employed 48 aircraft in its strikes, and about 150 of the weapons used were precision-guided, the official says. The U.S. has fired 47 Tomahawks Land Attack Missiles, eight of them against Khorasan targets.

    Khorasan was targeted “because it was nearing the execution phase” of a plot, and the U.S. decided to strike "when the plotting reached an advanced stage," a U.S. official told Starr, adding that Khorasan consists of senior al Qaeda amd al-Nusra Front operatives who have trained and fought in various locations, including Chechnya, Afghanistan/Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and North Africa.
  • Hostage speaks

    In a video released last night, John Cantlie, the British journalist held captive by ISIS, said he has been abandoned by his government and accuses Western governments of moving toward all-out war.

    “It’s all quite a circus," he says. "Not since Vietnam have we witnessed such a potential mess in the making.”

    He appears calm and it is unclear what portions of his statement were made under duress. The video has no date, but it appears to have been produced prior to the bombing campaign against ISIS and Khorasan.

    He further asserts the West is underestimating the strength of its enemy and says, “Current estimates of 15,000 troops needed to fight the Islamic State are laughingly low. The State has much more mujahideen than this, and this is not some undisciplined outfit with a few Kalashnikovs.”

    He explains his statement is part of a series and closes the six-minute video by saying, “Join me again for the next program.”
  • British journalist John Cantlie spoke in a video released by ISIS.

  • Details on threat against homeland

    A U.S official says the reported plot by the al Qaeda-linked group in Syria was in the advanced stage and targeted the U.S. homeland and European allies. There was no known specific target, the official said.

    The plot was not imminent or expected within the next few weeks, the official says, but militants were discussing the plot and indicated that they had obtained the necessary materials.

    The group was known to be working on new improvised explosive devices that would be difficult to detect, including in common handheld electronic devices and carry-on toiletry items. U.S. officials feared the plot would be difficult to head off when it reached an operational stage, the official says.

  • Syria received warning, U.S. State Department says

    Through its ambassador to the U.N., the United States advised the Syrian regime of its intent to take action against ISIS and other terrorists in Syria, and it warned Syria not to engage U.S. aircraft, State Department spokeswoman
    Jen Psaki said.

    However, the U.S. did not request Syria's permission or coordinate its plans with the Syrian government, she said. There was no advanced notice at the military level, and the U.S. did not provide any information regarding timing or specific targets, Psaki said.

  • Syrian opposition speaks

    “Tonight, the international community has joined our fight against ISIS in Syria. We have called for airstrikes such as those that commenced tonight with a heavy heart and deep concern, as these strikes begin in our own homeland. We insist that utmost care is taken to avoid civilian casualties," said Hadi al Bahra, president of the Syrian Coalition.
  • U.S. president's remarks

    U.S. President Barack Obama addresses strikes in Syria.

    Speaking from the South Lawn of the White House, President Barack Obama said the coalition that attacked ISIS in Syria overnight "makes it clear to the world that this is not America's fight alone," and that Arab governments in the Middle East are rejecting ISIS.

    He further said the U.S. would continue building international support for its campaign.

    He also reiterated that one purpose of the strikes was to disrupt a plot by "seasoned al Qaeda operatives" known as Khorasan.

    "We will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people," he said.

  • Who's in, who's not

    Lots of talk of the international support the U.S. has garnered in its campaign against ISIS in Syria. CNN's Jethro Mullen has a rundown on a few of the countries lending a hand.

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