U.S. military leaders on Tuesday asserted that their aerial bombings on Syria is only the beginning of a prolonged campaign that will continue for months and will become more difficult as targeted militants seek refuge in populated areas. The United States is now attacking two sets of enemies in the region: the Islamic State, a growing movement of jihadists seeking to create its own country in the Middle East, and the Khorasan group, a smaller network affiliated with al-Qaeda that officials say is plotting against Europe and the United States. At the same time, as the U.S. military and its Arab partners prepare more airstrikes in Syria in the coming days, they will have to contend with another adversary: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Although U.S. officials said they were not targeting Assad or his forces, many of the Sunni Muslim allies in President Obama’s coalition would like to see Assad’s government finally collapse after a devastating civil war. Whether the coalition’s intervention in Syria will eventually help or hurt Assad represents one of the greatest unknowns in a military campaign filled with uncertainty.
Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said the objectives set for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and now Syria could take years to complete. The attacks in Syria marked the start of a new phase, coming six weeks after the U.S. military began a similar campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in neighboring Iraq.
“The most important thing is to create some space for the Iraqi security forces to reorganize and replace leadership that needs to be replaced,” Mayville said. “What we have been doing over these last couple of weeks and what last night’s campaign was about was simply buying them some space so that they can get on the offensive.”
The U.S. led forces carried out at least 13 air strikes in Syria close to the Iraqi border on Wednesday, a second day of targeting Islamic State militants who have seized land on both sides of the frontier, a group that tracks the Syrian war said.