France Hits Back, Pounds Syria ISIS Stronghold with 20 Bombs in One Night
French warplanes launched a ferocious retaliatory assault late Sunday on targets in Raqqa, Syria — the Islamic State’s de facto capital — after coordination with U.S. defense officials who helped with the targeting, reports Washington Post.
The French Defense Ministry said that 10 aircraft dropped 20 bombs on facilities used by the militant group, which has claimed responsibility for Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, striking a command center, a militant-training facility and an arms depot.
Opposition activists reached in Raqqa said they counted at least 30 bombs, which they said had hit, among other things, a soccer stadium, a museum and medical facilities. They said the strikes had knocked out electricity in the city of about 200,000 people.
The French statement said the operation, launched from bases in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, was conducted in coordination with U.S. forces, which have compiled an extensive target list in Raqqa. American officials, speaking at the Group of 20 summit here that President Obama is attending, said the French operation was discussed between the two militaries, as well as in telephone calls Saturday and Sunday between Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and his French counterpart.
At the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, on Sunday, Nov. 15, President Obama references the twin-bombing attack in Ankara last month while discussing the terrorist attacks in Paris, saying the “killing of innocent people based on a twisted ideology is an attack on the civilized world.”
In Iraq on Sunday, Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari said Iraqi intelligence had obtained information before the Paris attacks that the Islamic State was planning an imminent terrorist strike overseas that may have been aimed “in particular” at France, the United States and Iran.
“We notified these countries and warned them,” Jafari said in a statement, which did not include specifics of when the Iraqis acquired the information. U.S. intelligence officials did not confirm the report.
Administration officials said the United States would not alter its strategy against the Islamic State in response to the Paris attacks, despite evidence that the terrorist group was expanding its ability to hit Western targets. In recent weeks, Obama has approved the escalation of airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and has authorized the deployment of 50 Special Operations troops to assist Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces pushing toward Raqqa.
Officials said that, in response to the attacks in Paris, the administration was seeking renewed global commitment to that intensified military action, and to a negotiated settlement of Syria’s civil war.
France’s retaliation came as Obama held talks with allied leaders and with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summit being held in this Turkish Mediterranean resort city.
Obama vowed again on Sunday to help France hunt down the perpetrators of the attacks. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama agreed with French President François Hollande that the rampage, which killed at least 132 and wounded more than 350, was an “act of war.” But he and others disputed suggestions from Republicans that Obama, who said in an interview last week that the U.S.-led coalition had contained the Islamic State, has consistently underestimated the adversary.
The president was referring to recent setbacks for the militant group on the battlefield in Iraq, Rhodes told reporters. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, a derogatory term in Arabic, has long harbored ambitions to sow bloodshed farther from its home base in Syria, he said, emphasizing that Obama has been realistic that the fight would be long and difficult.
“It’s the manifestation of what has been the ambition of ISIL for some time now — to conduct attacks beyond Iraq and Syria,” Rhodes said. “The president indicated when he launched the counter-ISIL strike campaign that he knew ISIL had those ambitions, which is why we have always focused on the threat of foreign fighters.”
The highly coordinated assaults on several locations in Paris on Friday evening have shaken the gathering of global leaders here. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which intelligence officials said were carried out by three teams of terrorists affiliated with the extremist group.
The attacks prompted Hollande to declare that France would lead a “merciless” fight against the Islamic State, a move that could increase pressure on the Obama administration to take stronger actions to ensure that the Islamic State cannot attack the United States directly.
GOP leaders, including some presidential candidates, have faulted Obama’s strategy as too limited to contain the Islamic State. The Paris attacks, along with the recent bombing of a Russian commercial plane claimed by the group, have thrust the administration’s approach in the Middle East into the 2016 campaign for the White House.