Waking up to news of an expanded war. Overnight, the United States launched a series of airstrikes in Syria, opening up a new front in its war against militants from the Islamic State.
One of the first videos to emerge appears to have been shot on a cell phone and purportedly shows US airstrikes on ISIS positions in and around the city of Raqqa, the group's de facto capital:
The Pentagon says it dropped more than 160 munitions on targets in Syria. While casualties are difficult to verify, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 70 militants were killed in Syria's north and east, with about 50 al-Qaeda-linked fighters believed to have been killed in strikes west of Aleppo. Eight civilians, including three children, were reported to have died. Meanwhile, this tweet from @Brown_Moses links to two videos allegedly showing wounded children in the wake of last night's strikes:
According to CENTCOM, 14 strikes were conducted using a mix of unmanned and manned aircraft, including the Air Force's F-22. Last night's attack also saw the U.S. launching 47 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles from the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea, which are positioned in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf. The Navy released this video from last night, showing it launching Tomahawk missiles:
Separately, the U.S. also carried out independent strikes against a little known, but well-resourced al-Qaeda cell that American officials fear is more dangerous than ISIS. "Led by a shadowy figure who was once among Osama bin Laden’s inner circle," the Khorasan Group consists of "a mix of hardened jihadis from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Europe" and is believed to pose "a more direct and imminent threat to the United States, working with Yemeni bomb-makers to target U.S. aviation." According to a statement released early Tuesday by U.S. Central Command, the U.S. conducted eight strikes against Khorasan Group targets "west of Aleppo to include training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities."
The strategy of striking ISIS in Syria is a military gamble with unpredictable consequences. As the New York Times reports, six weeks of US-led airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq have "have scarcely budged the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State from their hold on more than a quarter of the country." The strikes might halt the expansion of IS but they're not going to wipe the group out. As Mark Thompson writes in TIME, the bombing campaign may force IS militants to move in among civilians in Eastern Syria, "betting that the U.S. and its allies will not attack them there and risk killing innocents. That could lead to a stalemate. While air strikes are likely to keep ISIS from massing its forces, and traveling in easy-to-spot convoys, air power can do little to stop small groups of fighters from billeting with and intimidating the local population."