Airstrikes just the start against Islamic State
Washington – — The one-two-three punch of American and Arab airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq was just the beginning, President Barack Obama and other leaders declared Tuesday. They promised a sustained campaign showcasing a rare U.S.-Arab partnership aimed at Muslim extremists.
At the same time, in fresh evidence of how the terrorist threat continues to expand and mutate, the U.S. on its own struck a new al-Qaida cell that the Pentagon said was “nearing the execution phase” of a direct attack on the U.S. or Europe.
“This is not America’s fight alone,” Obama said of the military campaign against the Islamic State group. “We’re going to do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group, for the security of the country and the region and for the entire world.”
Meanwhile, U.S security officials warned federal and local police to watch for “homegrown violent extremists” who may be motivated to attack by airstrikes in Syria.
The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a joint intelligence bulletin Tuesday in which they said the strikes “may have temporarily disrupted attack plotting” by the Khorasan group, a militant network that includes former members of al-Qaeda.
An attack by that group and by the Islamic State, both of which were the targets in last night’s strikes, “are less likely near-term” though “plotting by these groups may accelerate,” according to the bulletin.
The alert, obtained by Bloomberg News, addresses no specific plots and encourages police to alert federal authorities of suspicious activity.
Word of the airstrikes came as the Islamic State posted the second in what it says will be a series of videos featuring British hostage John Cantlie, who was abducted in northern Syria in November 2012.
In the new video, Cantlie refers to himself as “the British citizen abandoned by his government and a long time prisoner of the Islamic State.” In the 5-minute and 55-second video, Cantlie, dressed in an orange jumpsuit similar to those worn by Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff and Briton David Haines when they were beheaded, cites former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer's criticism of Obama administration policy in arguing that the West is embarking on a war against the Islamic State that it cannot possibly win.
Obama said the U.S. was “proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder” with Arab partners in the airstrikes, and he called the roll: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said four of the five had participated in the strikes, with Qatar playing a supporting role.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Turkey, too, is joining the coalition against the Islamic State group and “will be very engaged on the front lines of this effort.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in New York for U.N. meetings, said he was considering expanding support of NATO operations against the Islamic State to include military involvement.
In all, Kerry said, more than 50 nations are allied in the fight.
It was a measure of the gravity of the threat and the complex politics of the problem that Syrian President Bashar Assad gave an indirect nod of approval to the airstrikes in his own country, saying he supported “any international anti-terrorism effort.”
Monday night, in three waves of attacks launched over four hours, the U.S. and its Arab partners made more than 200 airstrikes against roughly a dozen militant targets in Syria, including Islamic State headquarters, training camps and barracks as well as targets of the rival Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s branch within Syria.
The first wave, conducted by the U.S. alone, focused mostly on a shadowy network of al-Qaida veterans known as the Khorasan Group, based in northwestern Syria.
“We’ve been watching this group closely for some time, and we believe the Khorasan group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland,” said Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The group is known to be working with the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida to recruit foreign fighters with Western passports and explosives to target U.S. aviation.
A Syrian activist group reported that dozens of Islamic State fighters were killed in the strikes, but the numbers could not be independently confirmed. Several activists also reported at least 10 civilians killed.
Bloomberg News contributed.