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A network of "seasoned al Qaeda veterans" plotting to attack U.S. and Western interests was targeted by airstrikes overnight in Syria also aimed at ISIS, the Pentagon said early Tuesday. Fighter jets and bombers launched 14 strikes in a significant escalation in the fight against ISIS, which the U.S. has pledged to degrade and destroy in wake of the Sunni militants’ bloody rampage through Syria and Iraq.
In a statement early Tuesday, the U.S. military said that in addition to taking out ISIS targets it mounted eight separate strikes overnight “to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al Qaeda veterans,” also known as “the Khorasan group.” The strikes against Khorasan — which had established a haven in Syria to plot attacks, build roadside bombs and recruit Westerners to fight — targeted the group’s training camps, explosives production facility, communication building and command and control facilities, the Pentagon said.
A senior U.S. defense official told NBC News that intelligence agencies had requested the airstrikes against Khorasan as a last-minute add-on and said they were not the operation's primary target. U.S. jets met no resistance from Syrian forces, the official added. President Bashar Assad's regime had been notified by the U.S. of its intent to launch strikes.
While the U.S. was alone in the operations targeting Khorasan, U.S. Central Command said five Arab partner nations - Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – “participated in or supported” the broader overnight assault in Syria, underscoring the broad-based coalition cobbled together by Secretary of State John Kerry. “All aircraft safely exited the strike areas," the statement added. The U.A.E. government confirmed in a statement that its Air Force launched strikes against ISIS targets. Jordan's army confirmed it had bombed “terrorist groups" that were planning attacks in Jordan, but did not say where. "Air force jets destroyed a number of targets that belong to some terrorist groups that sought to commit terror acts inside Jordan," the Jordanian army statement broadcast on state TV said, according to Reuters.
The U.S. military said the strikes — launched from warships in the Red Sea and the North Arabian Gulf — destroyed or damaged “multiple” targets, which included ISIS fighters, their training compounds, headquarters, command facilities, a finance center and armed vehicles. The U.S. military said that it will continue to bomb ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq as needed, adding that it now has conducted 194 airstrikes in total across Iraq – including four strikes on Monday which took out Humvees and an ISIS fighting position southwest of Kirkuk.
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Reuters contributed to this report.