Monday 23 October 2017

US airstrikes kill 100 'key' al-Qa'ida militants in Syria

Al-Qa’ida-linked fighters in Syria last year. Photo: Ammar Abdullah/Reuters
Al-Qa’ida-linked fighters in Syria last year. Photo: Ammar Abdullah/Reuters

Robert Burns

US air strikes have killed more than 100 al-Qa'ida militants at a training camp in a remote area in north-western Syria, defence officials said.

The strike was carried out on Thursday by a US Air Force B-52 bomber and an undisclosed number of drone aircraft, an official said.

The militants killed in the air strikes were described by the official as "core" al-Qa'ida members, among a number who moved to Syria early last year to establish a foothold.

The official distinguished these militants from members of the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which is an al-Qa'ida affiliate in Syria.

Meanwhile, Jordan is deploying more forces to face a growing threat to its borders, as extremists in neighbouring Iraq and Syria are being dislodged from some strongholds, the commander of the kingdom's border guards said.

The Isil group, which seized large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, is under intense military pressure in both countries and has lost significant territory in recent months. US-backed Iraqi forces recently announced the recapture of the eastern side of Mosul, the northern city where they have been waging a three-month-old offensive.

General Sami Kafawin, commander of Jordan's border forces, said he expects some of the retreating Isil fighters to make their way to southern Syria, close to Jordan. Isil-affiliated groups already hold positions in southern Syria, some a few hundred meters from the border, the commander said, ahead of a tour of military positions along the western-most stretch of Jordan's border with Syria.

One such position, Thneibeh, faces the small Syrian village of Qusair, across the Yarmouk River.

Ravine

Qusair is controlled by an Isil-affiliated group, said Colonel Rami Sondos, a border official. Another Syrian village, separated from Qusair by a deep ravine, is run by Syrian rebels.

The Syrian groups mostly fight each other, trading fire between the two villages, as the Jordanian troops observe.

During Thursday's visit, a soldier perched on a lookout in a watchtower monitored the villages through large, mounted binoculars. A camera used at night can detect movement 8km into Syria, while cameras mounted at other border posts have a reach of 20km, Sondos said.

Infiltration attempts from Syria, including by drug smugglers suspected of ties to the militants, have so far been one of the biggest threats, border officials said.

Kafawin said that if more Isil fighters reach southern or eastern Syria, "we expect everything to be armed, to be dangerous, to become a real threat to the Jordan borders," including possible car bombs and suicide attacks.

Irish Independent

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