DoD Official: Successful Syrian Strikes Only the Beginning
By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2014 Successful U.S. military and partner nation strikes last night against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, were only the beginning of the fight to degrade and defeat the brutal terrorist group, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Adm. John Kirby said today.
Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Staff, describes the airstrikes U.S. and coalition forces conducted on ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq during a press briefing at the Pentagon, Sept. 23, 2014. DoD photo by Casper Manlangit.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Coalition partners in the strikes included Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with Qatar in a supporting role, the admiral said during a press briefing here, adding that all continue to be a critical part of the strategy against ISIL.
“Secretary Hagel appreciates their partnership and in particular the hard work and the strong leadership shown by our Central Command Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin,” who kept Hagel updated throughout the operation, Kirby added.
Hagel is also “immensely proud of the U.S. personnel who participated in and supported these missions,” the admiral said, “and he deeply appreciates their service and their sacrifices.”
About the operation itself, Kirby said Centcom did not coordinate with the Assad regime.
“While the United States did inform the Syrian regime through our U.N. ambassador of our intent to take action, there was no coordination and no military-to-military communication.”
Joining Kirby at the press briefing was Army Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations, or J3, for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who described the operation’s targets and evolution.
The coalition strikes targeted ISIL training camps, headquarters, command-and-control facilities, logistical nodes, armored vehicles and leadership, Mayville said.
“U.S. military forces also executed unilateral precision strikes against the Khorasan group, an [al-Qaida]-affiliated terrorist organization located in northwest Syria,” he said, adding that intelligence reports indicated the Khorasan Group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the United States.
“We've been watching this group closely for some time. … We know that the Khorasan group has attempted to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives or to infiltrate back into their homelands,” the general said. “The Khorasan group is clearly not focused on the Assad regime or the Syrian people. They are establishing roots in Syria … to advance attacks against the West and the homeland.”
Mayville said the strikes were organized in three waves.
The first wave began around midnight in Syria, or 8:30 Eastern time, when “the USS Arleigh Burke in the Red Sea and the USS Philippine Sea in the northern Arabian Gulf launched more than 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles in eastern and northern Syria.”
On a map, Mayville indicated a target area around Aleppo and Ar-Raqqah. Most of the Tomahawk land-attack missile strikes were against Khorasan Group compounds, their manufacturing workshops and training camps, he said.
The second wave consisted of F-22 Raptors in their first combat role, F-15 Strike Eagles, F-16s, B-1 bombers and drones that launched from bases in the region around 9:00 p.m. Eastern time against targets in northern Syria, the general said.
The final wave occurred just after midnight.
F-18s from the USS George H.W. Bush in the northern Arabian Gulf and regionally based U.S. F-16s, among others, the general said, attacked targets in eastern Syria, including ISIL training camps and combat vehicles near Dayr az-Zawr.
“Coalition partners participated in the second and third waves, supporting with a range of combat capabilities that began with combat air patrols to actual strikes on targets,” Mayville added. “The preponderance of coalition support was in the third wave.”
The general noted that 96 percent of all delivered munitions were precision-guided, and he displayed before-and-after photographs illustrating the munitions’ tightly targeted effects.
One photograph showed an intact ISIL finance center in Raqqah. After it was engaged with Tomahawk Cruise missiles fired from the USS Philippine Sea, Mayville pointed out, the building was still intact and only a small communications array on the building’s roof was damaged.
The Tomahawk cruise missiles detonated as air bursts and their effects focused only on the communications array, he said.
Another photograph showed an intact ISIL command-and-control building in Raqqah that was targeted by U.S. Air Force F-22s during the second wave of strikes.
“This strike was the first time the F-22 was used in a combat role. The flight … delivered GPS-guided munitions, precision munitions, targeting only the right side of the building. You can see … that the command-and-control center where it was located in the building was destroyed,” Mayville said.
The strikes involved multiple aircraft and cruise missiles from several countries, he added, “and careful planning and coordination of U.S. Central Command's combined air operations center located in the region [ensured] that these strikes were successful with minimal collateral damage.”
Mayville said last night’s strikes are the beginning of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
“Our immediate tasks,” he said, “are to continue the degradation of ISIL in Syria and Iraq [and] to build and strengthen regional partners and to build a regional coalition.”
Other immediate tasks, Mayville said, are to help place Iraqi security forces and Peshmerga forces on the offensive, to support broader diplomatic efforts in the region, to implement a Syrian train-and-equip program, and to continue working with Iraqi security forces and ministries.
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)