Official: New airstrikes under way; planes targeting refineries used by ISIS
WASHINGTON (CNN) — U.S. and coalition warplanes pounded ISIS positions in eastern Syrian, targeting oil installations being used by the so-called Islamic State terror group, a U.S. official with knowledge of the operation told CNN on Wednesday.
The airstrikes came just hours after U.S. President Barack Obama called for united action to confront ISIS, also referred to as ISIL.
“It is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion,” Obama said in an address before the U.N. General Assembly.
“This is not simply a matter of words. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment.”
At the same time, Obama stressed that the United States “is not and never will be at war with Islam.”
The latest airstrikes follow another round were carried out overnight Tuesday into Wednesday against five more targets: four in Iraq and one in Syria, U.S. Central Command said.
In Syria, a U.S. aircraft and coalition plane struck an ISIS staging area near the Iraqi border, northwest of Al Qa’im, damaging eight ISIS vehicles.
In Iraq, two airstrikes west of Baghdad destroyed two ISIS armed vehicles and a weapons cache. Two airstrikes southeast of the city of Irbil destroyed ISIS fighting positions.
The latest raids come on the heels of major airstrikes in Syria early Tuesday.
Obama’s call for action comes as he faces questions about his decision to bomb terror groups in Syria without approval from the U.N. Security Council or U.S. Congress.
And as the President takes the world stage, U.S. law enforcement agencies are looking out for possible lone-wolf attack plots to retaliate for the bombings.
Why not strike the regime?
While some Syrians celebrated the U.S. airstrikes on radical militants, others expressed frustration that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which world leaders blame for thousands of civilian deaths, goes unscathed.
“I am just wondering why the U.S. didn’t bomb the regime’s brigades,” Aleppo resident Foaad Hallak said.
“If the international community is willing to show their good intentions to Syrians, they have to bomb the regime and its militias and also ISIS, and also they have to supply FSA (the rebel Free Syrian Army) with anti-aircraft missiles.”
Muhammad al-Dleby said he was frustrated that after three years and more than 100,000 deaths in Syria, the international community stepped in only because radical militants were “a threat to its interests.”
“Assad is the biggest terrorist in Syria, and he did crimes that even … extremists didn’t do,” he said.
Kerry: Strikes effective but will take time
Conceding that airstrikes haven’t flushed out ISIS in Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that U.S airpower may nonetheless have prevented the fall of Baghdad and Irbil to the militants.
“What we’ve done is we’ve stopped the onslaught,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“That was what we were able to achieve with air power. They were moving towards Irbil. They were moving towards Baghdad. Baghdad could well have fallen. Irbil could have fallen.”
U.S. airstrikes aren’t designed to defeat ISIS by themselves, Kerry said. “You and others should not be looking for some massive retreat in the next week or two,” he said.
The airstrikes began early Tuesday in Syria, with coalition partners targeting ISIS and the U.S. hitting the al Qaeda-linked Khorasan Group.
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan took part in airstrikes on the ISIS targets, the U.S. military said, while Qatar played a supporting role.
Warplanes also hit ISIS targets in northern Syria, including the town of Raqqa.
Activist: ISIS fighters keep low profile
An activist from Raqqa, who uses the pseudonym Maher al-Ahmad, told CNN he’d gone back to the town after the airstrikes.
“It’s the first time I didn’t see ISIS in the streets, that I was able to walk around, because I am wanted by them,” said al-Ahmad, who moves between Raqqa and Turkey’s Gaziantep province.
He said people who were there during the strikes described them as feeling like earthquakes.
Some 20 to 25 vehicles filled with ISIS fighters, including people he believes were senior leadership because of the level of security around them, left the city within hours of the attacks, the activist said.
After keeping a low profile during the day, the ISIS fighters were out in the streets again by Tuesday evening but in lower numbers than usual, he said.
ISIS fighters began moving into the homes of civilians in the past two to three weeks, al-Ahmad said, raising fears that the civilians may be used as human shields or fall victim to future airstrikes.
Hassan al-Halabi, an activist from Aleppo, voiced similar fears, saying residents there have two main concerns about upcoming strikes in Syria.
“The first is that they are afraid of having civilian casualties because ISIS’ members and fighters are among civilians,” al-Halabi said.
“And the second concern is that what will happen after that? Who will replace ISIS, especially that the regime is ready to take control of ISIS’ areas?”
UK Parliament to debate airstrikes in Iraq
The United Kingdom’s lawmakers will soon debate whether their country should join the United States and France in conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled Parliament early to discuss the possibility. Parliament will meet Friday to “debate the UK’s response to the request from the Iraqi government for airstrikes to support operations against (ISIS) in Iraq,” a Downing Street representative said Wednesday.