US praises role of Arab states in Syrian air strikes

Coalition of forces shows world ‘this is not America’s fight alone’, says US president

President

Barack Obama

praised the handful of Arab nations that supported America’s first air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants inside

Syria

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as US military chiefs warned of a sustained campaign of further air assaults

for years to come. Speaking the morning after the US – along with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – killed a reported 120 militants in Syria, Mr Obama said the coalition showed the world "this is not America's fight alone".

‘Common security’

“America’s proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security,” Mr Obama said. Fighter planes, unmanned drones and 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from two US navy ships blasted sites around the Syrian city of Raqqa – the IS stronghold from where the group controls large parts of

Iraq

and Syria – and areas close to the Iraqi border.

Monday night's air strikes also targeted the Khorasan Group, an off-shoot of al-Qaeda, around Aleppo in northwestern Syria. The Pentagon said the group, comprising al-Qaeda veterans from Afghanistan and Pakistan, was close to attacking western targets. "We will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people," said Mr Obama.

The air strikes, launched in three waves, mark a major escalation in the US fight against the Muslim Sunni radicals and show the strength of American efforts to win support among Sunni nations in the region.

“You are seeing the beginning of a sustained campaign, and strikes like this in the future can be expected,” said Lieut Gen William Mayville, director of operations of the US military’s joint chiefs of staff. He saw the campaign’s duration “in terms of years”, he said.

The attacks are the first time the US has launched strikes inside Syria during the country's three-year-old civil war. The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was warned in advance "not to engage US aircraft", the US state department said. Dr Assad, who is opposed by Washington, said he supported any international effort to combat "terrorism" in Syria, according to the country's media.

Militant casualties

At least 120 fighters, including 70 IS militants, and eight civilians were killed in the air strikes, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors fighting in Syria.

European countries did not participate, though British prime minister David Cameron said: "This is not a fight we can opt out of," he said. The threat from IS will be the subject of talks today when Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan meets US secretary of state John Kerry and other EU foreign ministers at the UN on Mr Flanagan's first official visit to the US. Russia criticised the strikes, saying they should have been agreed with Damascus.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent