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September 24, 2014

U.S. and Arab partners go after ISIL in Syria

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The U.S. and its Arab partners launched a campaign of over 200 airstrikes in Syria this week in an effort to weaken ISIL.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a Sunni Muslim militant group that captured one-third of Iraqi territory this summer in its effort to establish an Islamic ruled state called a caliphate. The U.S. and United Nations have deemed ISIL a terrorist organization and condemned its brutal attacks on Iraq’s religious minorities. The group recently drew outrage for executing American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

The U.S. is working with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and Qatar to strike ISIL targets, President Obama said.

“The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone,” he said.

The current civil war in Syria, and a long history of U.S. military intervention in the Arab world, both complicate U.S. actions in the area.

The Syrian civil war began in 2011, pitting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government against opposition groups. It has had devastating effects on the civilian population; over 90 percent of Syrians live in poverty, according to the U.N.

Obama recently approved $500 million to train the Free Syrian Army, an opposition group, to fight ISIL. However, this support could implicate the U.S. in the Free Syrian Army’s attacks on the Syrian government.

Meanwhile, some Sunni Muslims are suspicious that the U.S. intends to attack Sunni Islam, according to Joshua Landis of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

This suspicion draws partly from the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which prompted the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated government.

“We have to convince the Arab world that we’re going to do something good for Sunnis, and that we’re not just bombing Arabs again,” said Landis.

This week, the U.S. also separately struck the Khorasan group, which is comprised of al-Qaeda veterans (another terrorist group) and had been stationed in Syria while planning an attack in Europe or the U.S. Those strikes were successful, according to Pentagon officials.

The State Department said it did not coordinate with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ahead of the strikes, but alerted the city of Damascus. Critics of the airstrikes, such as President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, have said since the U.S. is not partnered with the Syrian government in its mission against ISIL, airstrikes violate the sovereignty of the Syrian government.


Warm up questions
  1. Where are Syria and Iraq?
  2. What do you know about Syria?
  3. What are some battles currently being fought by the United States military?
Critical thinking questions
  1. President Obama said, “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.” Do you think it is important to have a coalition in this case? What are some of the risks and benefits?
  2. The airstrikes against Islamic State targets were carried out in the city of Raqqa and other areas in eastern Syria. The strikes were part of the expanded military campaign that Obama authorized nearly two weeks ago in order to disrupt and destroy the Islamic State militants.” Why do you think the United States decided to use airstrikes as a method to “disrupt and destroy” ISIL? What are some other military and political methods that could be used? What are the risks and benefits of these different methods? If you were the president of the United States, what would you do and why?
  3. “Obama recently approved $500 million to train the Free Syrian Army, an opposition group, to fight ISIL. However, this support could implicate the U.S. in the Free Syrian Army’s attacks on the Syrian government.” Syria is in the middle of a civil war that the United States has attempted to stay out of. How might this new $500 million funding to train the Free Syrian Army (who is fighting the current Syrian government) complicate the United States position on the civil war? What might the implications be?
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