DAMASCUS, September 23- The United States and Arab allies launched strikes from the air and sea against Islamic State militants in Syria on Tuesday, opening a new front in the battle against the brutal jihadist group.
The Pentagon said that Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates had joined Washington in carrying out the raids.
“Using a mix of fighter, bomber, remotely piloted aircraft and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles” the coalition conducted 14 strikes against IS targets in Syria, it said.
The operation “destroyed or damaged” multiple targets in the jihadists’ northern stronghold of Raqa and near the border with Iraq, including IS fighter positions, training compounds, command centres and armed vehicles.
The first reaction to the strikes from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was muted, with Damascus saying it had been notified before the attacks and supported “any international effort” against the jihadists.
The US-led air assault in Syria marked a turning point in the war against the IS group, which has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared an Islamic “caliphate”.
The fact that the five Arab nations joining the strikes are Sunni-ruled will also be of crucial symbolic importance in the fight against the Sunni extremists of IS.
Washington had been reluctant to intervene in Syria’s raging civil war, but was jolted into action as the jihadists captured more territory and committed widespread atrocities, including the on-camera beheadings of three Western hostages.
Syria’s opposition had pleaded for the strikes, especially after a jihadist assault on a strategic Kurdish town in the north of the country over the past week sent tens of thousands of terrified residents fleeing across the border to Turkey.
– Tomahawks from warships –
IS militants have warned the US led campaign would be met with a harsh response and an IS linked Algerian group on Monday threatened to kill a French hostage within 24 hours if Paris did not end its participation in air strikes in Iraq.
Washington said the strikes from the sea were carried out from US warships operating in the Red Sea and the Gulf which fired 47 Tomahawk missiles.
It said that the five Arab nations had “participated in or supported” the air attacks.
Four air strikes were also conducted Monday in neighbouring Iraq, the Pentagon said, bringing the total number of US raids in that country to 194.
It said eight strikes were carried out on a group of “seasoned Al Qaeda” veterans west of Syria’s second city Aleppo to disrupt “imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain based monitoring group, said the strike near Aleppo had killed 30 militants affiliated with Al Qaeda militants and eight civilians, including three children.