U.S., allied airstrikes target ISIS in northern Syria
(CNN) — U.S. and allied warplanes hit sites near the northern Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab, the scene of fighting between ISIS and Kurdish forces in recent days, the U.S. Central Command confirmed Saturday.
A London-based monitoring group also claimed Saturday that other airstrikes may have also resulted in the deaths of six civilians near the Syrian city of al-Hasakah.
CNN could not independently confirm the report from the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The U.S. Central Command did say Saturday that airstrikes hit an ISIS vehicle and several buildings that were part of an ISIS garrison near al-Hasakah.
In the separate airstrikes near Ayn al-Arab, coalition airstrikes hit a building and two armed vehicles at a border crossing with Turkey, the military said.
Syrian Kurdish fighters in Alishar, a village a few kilometers from Ayn al-Arab, said the airstrike hit an unofficial border crossing near the village.
The strikes are believed to be the first known coalition attacks near the border with Turkey. That country is not participating in the airstrikes and has repeatedly pressed for an international buffer zone separating the combat in Syria from the Turkish border.
A purported video statement posted online Saturday by Al-Nusra Front, the al Qaeda franchise in Syria, condemns the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. A man identified as Abu Firas al-Souri, spokesman for the group, denounced the participation of Muslim countries in the coalition.
In addition to U.S. Air Force and Navy aircraft, warplanes from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE participated in strikes in Syria, which also targeted ISIS forces in several other locations, Central Command said.
A Kurdish fighter in the region and the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had earlier reported airstrikes in the vicinity of the village of Alishar, west of Ayn al-Arab.
Coalition airstrikes also destroyed ISIS vehicles and a fighting position near Erbil, Iraq, the Central Command said.
Kurdish forces have been battling ISIS for days to prevent the fall of Ayn al-Arab, which is also known as Kobani. It is the last Kurdish-held city in that region of northwest Syria following a swift ISIS assault that sent some 200,000 people running for their lives to Turkey.
At least four mortar rounds believed fired by ISIS forces have landed in Kobani, according to to Alan Minbic, a Syrian Kurdish soldier who was fighting in an area between Ayn al-Arab, which is also known as Kobani, and Aidek.
A CNN crew witnessed the Kurdish fighters using artillery and heavy machine-gun fire to drive the ISIS fighters back from the ridge line they were occupying.
The developments come as the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS continues to grow. On Saturday, U.K. defense officials announced British fighter jets began flying reconnaissance flights over Iraq less than 24 hours after Parliament voted to approve the country’s involvement.
Denmark and Belgium also signed up on Friday, adding to a list of more than 50 European, Asian and Arab countries that have joined the fight, according to U.S. officials.
U.S. forces continue to hunt targets in Iraq and Syria, with aircraft taking off from the USS George H.W. Bush as often as every 55 seconds, according to CNN’s Becky Anderson, who is aboard the aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.
The United States launched airstrikes against ISIS in August in an effort to stem the group’s breathtaking advance across Iraq. The group, which calls itself the Islamic State, routed Iraqi forces and took over vast swaths of the country. Some analysts warned Baghdad was at risk of falling to the well-armed, organized and funded extremist group without Western involvement.
While the most dramatic advances have been halted, Western leaders have warned of a long fight against ISIS, saying it could take years before the group is fully dislodged.
CNN’s Arwa Damon, Ingrid Formakek, Salma Abdelaziz aand journalist Aref al Krez contributed to this report.
By Michael Pearson