WASHINGTON D.C.: The US-led air strikes mounted on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) and early Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) in Syria are the opening salvo of what is likely to be a years-long campaign to rout al-Qaeda-linked terrorists and Islamic State (IS) fighters from the war-torn country, according to military leaders.
Bombing runs in Syria will continue into the foreseeable future, Defense Department officials said. After initial strikes in Syria, US warplanes returning to their home base blasted two trucks, the US Central Command reported in a statement.
The strategy announced by President Barack Obama involves air strikes and training, advising and equipping local forces to battle the militants.
That won’t happen quickly, said Army Lt. General William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I would think of it in terms of years,” Mayville said.
Obama cautioned leaders from Arab nations meeting in New York on Tuesday, “This is not going to be something that is quick, and it is not something that is going to be easy.”
The attacks focused on two targets:
•The Khorasan terrorist group, an al-Qaeda affiliate that Pentagon and White House officials said had planned imminent attacks focused on US or European targets.
•The IS militants who control large parts of Syria and Iraq, intending to extend their brutal rule over a vast region. Fighters from the Islamic State—also known as ISIS or ISIL—have beheaded several hostages, including two American journalists.
Khorasan terrorists “have established a safe haven in Syria to plan external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman.
“The United States took action to protect our interests and to remove their capability to act,” he added.
The attacks appear to have killed “lots of bad guys,” said one Pentagon official who was not authorized to publicly discuss the details of the operation. This group includes terrorists with expertise in making easily concealable bombs that could be smuggled aboard US planes, the source said.
The majority of the 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at Syria were aimed at “Khorasan group compounds, their manufacturing workshops and training camps,” Mayville said.
The second and third waves of attacks late on Monday and early Tuesday, launched by US and Arab warplanes, struck IS headquarters buildings and barracks among other targets, Mayville said. The bulk of the attacks were conducted by US aircraft using precision munitions.
The initial attacks on militant targets in Syria, Mayville said, were intended to relieve pressure on Iraqi security forces. The IS is headquartered in Syria and trains and resupplies its forces from bases there for their campaign in Iraq.
“What we have been doing over these last couple weeks and what last night’s campaign was about was just simply buying [the Iraqis]some space so that they can get on the offensive,” Mayville said.
IS forces have shown signs of adapting to avoid air strikes, so the coalition may have to adjust its attacks, Mayville said, but he made clear that US warplanes don’t need troops on the ground to direct strikes.
“We’ve been able to provide air support without putting forces forward, and I think we will continue to look at how we can do that as we move forward,” Mayville said.