On the night of Sept 22, the US air campaign against Daash expanded from northern Iraq to Syria. Fourteen strikes, using a combination of ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles, B-1B bombers, F/A-18s, F-15s, F-16s, and drones, hit targets in Raqqa, Deir al Zour, Hassakeh, and the border town of Abu Kamal, as well as strikes on the Khorasan Group near Aleppo.
CENTCOM has announced that Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates “participated in or supported” the strikes. CNN reports that several aircraft from one of these countries participated, though which one has not been confirmed. It was also announced by the Syrian government that their UN envoy was warned of the strikes before they began.
CENTCOM says that the strikes targeted training facilities, munitions caches, and command and control nodes. It has also been reported by activists on the ground in Syria that strikes did not only target Daash, but also Al Nusra, including the Khorasan Group near Aleppo. The US press release on the bombings claims that the strike on the Khorasan Group disrupted an imminent attack on the US, though there is very little information presently available as to how accurate this is. Some jihadist social media sites are reporting the death of Muhsin al Fadhli, a seasoned AQ operative who was working with the Khorasan Group, in the strikes, but there has yet been no corroboration of these reports. Given the tendency of jihadists to be reported dead and then turn up again weeks or months later (Omar al Shishani has been reported dead in Syria at least three times), these reports should be taken with a grain of salt for now. The release from CENTCOM stressed that the strikes on the Khorasan Group were conducted by the US alone.
Reports indicate that most targets were infrastructure. CENTCOM has not commented on casualties, while some social media feeds from inside Syria have suggested up to seventy dead.
It is unclear what participation the other Gulf States provided. No specifics have been given. CENTCOM did state that land-based B-1s, F-15s, and F-16s were involved; since Turkey earlier refused to allow the use of Incirlik Airbase for strikes against Daash, apparently in a new move to appease the Islamists, it is likely that the land-based strikes were launched from bases in one or another of the Gulf countries. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE all have small complements of F-16s, and the Saudis do have F-15s, so it is also possible that some of the land-based fighters listed by CENTCOM came from those countries, as well. Qatar’s only known high-performance combat aircraft are a handful of Mirage 2000s. It is also possible that some of the support provided was in the form of spotters on the ground, talking the airstrikes in on the targets.
While the strikes are being touted as of great importance and significance, so far the actual damage assessment is unclear, and the efficacy of targeting buildings and facilities to combat a group as resilient as Daash is open to question. Leadership is replaceable, and the group has shown a great deal of ability both at taking what they need from their targets and employing mission based orders, therefore reducing the centralization of command. In the long run, while the strikes may have done some damage, this is a far cry from winning anything. One commentary, coming from former Delta officer James Reese, said “This is the punch in the nose to the bully that we talked about on the playground. ISIS is the bully, and we just punched him in the nose.” All well and good from a propaganda perspective, but the Doolittle Raid didn’t win the war. Shock and Awe didn’t topple Saddam. If anyone is expecting these strikes to change anything, there needs to be a lot of other work going down on the ground first.
Image courtesy BBC