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U.S. and Arab partners begin air war against Islamic State in Syria – Part 1

September 23, 2014 at 9:39 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The air war against Islamic State forces has now moved into Syria. Bombs and missiles rained down on targets there overnight. Another group was also hit to avert a possible attack on the United States itself.

In all, the more than 200 airstrikes included bombing from U.S. carrier-based aircraft, as well as sorties from regional Arab nations, plus nearly 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. Navy vessels, all aimed at more than a dozen locations across Northern Syria.

They included Islamic State training camps and other facilities in Raqqa and also in Hasakah, Deir el-Zour, and hard by the Iraq border at Abu Kamal.

As he left the White House this morning, President Obama said the aerial assault made a vital point.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We were joined in this action by our friends and partners — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar. The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Separately, on its own, the U.S. hit a group called Khorasan, an organization of veteran al-Qaida operatives. Eight airstrikes hit near Aleppo, where the Khorasan militants are linked with the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s principal Syria franchise.

Pentagon leaders said the strikes were successful. The top operations officer for the Joint Chiefs, Lieutenant General William Mayville, said the Aleppo attacks aimed to disrupt an active plot.

LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE, Director for Operations, Joint Chiefs of Staff:  We have been watching this group closely for some time, and we believe the Khorasan group is — was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mayville also made clear the air campaign against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria is open-ended.

QUESTION:  Could this take years?

LT. GEN. WILLIAM MAYVILLE:  I would think of it in terms of years, yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There were some reports of civilians killed on the ground and video of Syrians apparently trying to dig out people trapped in rubble. Mayville said they were unaware of any civilian deaths.

He also confirmed the U.S. carried out the vast majority of the bombing. But Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all flew combat missions, too, while Qatar provided support.

Jordan’s information minister spoke in Amman.

MOHAMMED MOMANI, Minister of State for Media Affairs, Jordan: We will continue to identify and to attack the positions of these terrorist organizations, in order to secure our country and our national interests.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The State Department denied reports that it coordinated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It did say the U.S. alerted Damascus ahead of the strikes. After the strikes, the Syrian government issued its own statement on state television.

MAN (through interpreter):  Syria will support any international effort that may help in fighting terrorism. But this shouldn’t affect the lives of civilians and national sovereignty of Syria, as well as the international laws.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On the streets of Damascus today, reactions to the air campaign varied.

MAZEN OBEID, (through interpreter): When we see American warplanes flying in the air over Syria, it is impossible to be optimistic about this thing.

MUSTAFA KALLASEH, Syria (through interpreter): With all my respect to America, it should stand by the Syrian government’s side in a serious way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There was also word that a key NATO ally might join the fight:  Turkish President Erdogan had refused to pledge military action earlier this month at a NATO summit while 49 Turks were being held hostage by Islamic State militants. The captives were released Saturday.

And today Erdogan said: “We will give the necessary support to the operation. The support could be military or logistics.”

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is not going to be something that is quick and it’s not something that is going to be easy. It will take time.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Later, after arriving in New York, President Obama met with leaders of the anti-Islamic State coalition. He will make the case for the campaign tomorrow before the U.N. General Assembly.

Also today, the wife of British aid worker Alan Henning said she’s received an audio message from him pleading for Islamic State captors to spare his life.

And, in Iraq, Islamic State fighters in Iraq paraded captured government soldiers in Fallujah. The militants overran an army camp in Anbar province on Sunday, killing 40 troops and capturing nearly 70.

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