President Obama said this morning that last night’s airstrikes in Syria targeted an al-Qaeda cell as well as ISIS targets around their headquarters of Raqqa, where witnesses reported strike activity.
The White House has been guarded about specifically mentioning Khorasan or mentioning the threat posed by the training area focusing on attacks in the West run by Ayman al-Zawahiri’s deputy Muhsin al-Fadhli in north Syria.
“Earlier this month, I outlined for the American people our strategy to confront the threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIL. I made clear that as part of this campaign the United States would take action against targets in both Iraq and Syria so that these terrorists can’t find safe haven anywhere. I also made clear that America would act as part of a broad coalition. And that’s exactly what we’ve done,” Obama said on the South Lawn of the White House.
The president confirmed that Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar joined in the strikes. The UAE released a statement saying that its air forces launched the first strikes.
“America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security,” Obama said. “The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone. Above all, the people and governments in the Middle East are rejecting ISIL and standing up for the peace and security that the people of the region and the world deserve.”
“Meanwhile, we will move forward with our plans, supported by bipartisan majorities in Congress, to ramp up our effort to train and equip the Syrian opposition, who are the best counterweight to ISIL and the Assad regime. And more broadly, over 40 nations have offered to help in this comprehensive effort to confront this terrorist threat — to take out terrorist targets; to train and equip Iraqi and Syrian opposition fighters who are going up against ISIL on the ground; to cut off ISIL’s financing; to counter its hateful ideology; and to stop the flow of fighters into and out of the region.”
Obama then added that last night strikes were conducted “to disrupt plotting against the United States and our allies by seasoned al-Qaeda operatives in Syria who are known as the Khorosan Group.”
“And once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people,” he added.
Rumors started by Jabhat al-Nusra supporters online this morning said al-Fadhli and his family were killed in U.S. strikes. Last week some jihadists also started a rumor that al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri had been killed, which turned out to not be true.
“I’ve spoken to leaders in Congress and I’m pleased that there is bipartisan support for the actions we are taking,” Obama said. “America is always stronger when we stand united, and that unity sends a powerful message to the world that we will do what’s necessary to defend our country.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called it “historic” that the coalition of Arab nations was so broad.
“While Western military force can help combat the poisonous ideology of groups such as ISIS, ultimately it is up to Muslim nations to resist and eliminate this poison,” Levin said.
Obama headed up to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, where today he’ll deliver remarks at a climate summit and fundraise for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee tonight.
“Over the next several days I will have the opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq, and with friends and allies at the United Nations to continue building support for the coalition that is confronting this serious threat to our peace and security,” he said. “The overall effort will take time. There will be challenges ahead. But we’re going to do what’s necessary to take the fight to this terrorist group, for the security of the country and the region and for the entire world.”