Airstrikes, likely carried out by U.S.-led forces, hit Islamic State targets in Syria Saturday, a Syrian watchdog group said. There was no immediate confirmation of the attacks from U.S. officials.
Turkey’s president, meanwhile, said Turkish troops could be used to set up a secure zone in Syria, if there was an international agreement to establish such a haven for refugees fleeing Islamic State fighters
Turkey, a NATO member, has been struggling to balance its interests in preventing further destabilization from Syria. A 10-day assault by militants on Kobani, a town also known as Ayn al-Arab, has sent 140,000 refugees across the border into Turkey since last week in the biggest such exodus in 3 ½ years of civil war.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Saturday reported 31 massive explosions in the province of Raqqa, an Islamic State stronghold, and casualties were reported.
Explosions were heard also near al-Etihad University in Aleppo province, an Islamic State headquarters and areas east of the desert town of Palmyra in Homs province.
American fighter jets, bombers, drones and other aircraft have been pounding Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, along with allied forces from Jordan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and other Arab states.
French jets have also conducted strikes, and on Friday, the list of participating militaries grew as Britain, Denmark and Belgium announced they would join the effort. Australia and the Netherlands are also participating.
Turkey Gets Involved
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said negotiations were underway to determine how and by which countries the air strikes and a potential ground operation would be undertaken and that Turkey is ready to take part.
“In the distribution of responsibilities, every country will have a certain duty. Whatever is Turkey’s role, Turkey will play it,” he was quoted as saying said by the Hurriyet newspaper.
“You can’t finish off such a terrorist organization only with air strikes. Ground forces are complementary … You have to look at it as a whole. Obviously I’m not a soldier but the air (operations) are logistical,” he said. “If there’s no ground force, it would not be permanent.”
On Friday, U.S. Central Command said four Islamic State tanks were destroyed in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province. The Syrian Observatory said oil facilities were the apparent target of overnight strikes in Deir el-Zour and a command center was also hit.
In northern Syria, video posted to social media purports to show Kurdish fighters launching attacks on Islamic State targets near Kobani.
In Iraq, seven strikes targeted armored vehicles, including three Humvees and a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle, U.S. military officials said. Several other vehicles and outposts were hit in strikes near Kirkuk, west of Baghdad, and near al-Qaim.
US Trainers in Saudi Arabia
U.S. teams tasked with training select Syrian rebel groups were beginning to arrive in Saudi Arabia in place to start their work. The teams are part of U.S. efforts to train elements of the Syrian opposition to fight Islamic State militants.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday opposition fighters were being vetted by U.S. military, diplomatic, and intelligence experts to determine who will be trained, but the rebel groups will choose their own leadership.
More than 200 airstrikes have been conducted in Iraq this week and 43 in Syria, Hagel said.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military campaign is an Iraq-first strategy, but not an Iraq-only strategy. He said that any ground troops he might recommend be used in Iraq in the future would be international, and comprised of Iraqis, Kurds and Syrian opposition forces.
Russia Condemns Strikes
Speaking at the United Nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday the airstrikes in Syria were a violation of international law because the US-led coalition has not received permission from Damascus.
The coalition should seek Syrian cooperation not only for legal reasons but to ensure “the efficiency of the effort,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov’s statement was the strongest criticism yet at the U.N. General Assembly where most speakers have spoken out against the Islamic State.
Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt announced Friday her country would provide seven F-16 fighter jets to carry out airstrikes in Iraq. Belgium is also contributing six F-16s.
Before the vote a Britain’s Parliament, Prime Minister David Cameron warned a military campaign against the Islamic State could take years, but he said the airstrikes were necessary because the Islamic State had “proven intention to attack our country and our people.”
The group comprised on local and foreign fighters and espousing a severe form of Islam swept through large parts of Iraq in June, defeating U.S.-trained-and-armed Iraqi forces, seizing large amounts of their weapons. It already controlled large amounts of territory in Syria, where it is fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
The campaign has brought Washington back to the battlefield of Iraq that it left in 2011 and into Syria for the first time after avoiding involvement in a war that began the same year.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.