Beirut, Jun 7: US-led aircraft bombed Islamic State group fighters as they battled rival Syrian rebels, including Al-Qaeda loyalists, in a first such intervention, a monitoring group said today.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described the overnight raids in northern Aleppo as an intervention on the side of the rival rebels, which include forces who have been targeted previously by US-led strikes. "The coalition carried out at least four strikes overnight targeting IS positions in the town of Suran," the Britain-based Observatory said.
The US military, in a statement, said an air raid near Aleppo destroyed an IS ant-aircraft artillery piece and a jihadist fighting position. "It's the first time that the international coalition has supported non-Kurdish opposition forces fighting the Islamic State," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. He said at least eight IS fighters were killed in the strikes and another 20 were injured.
Syria expert Thomas Pierret said the raids showed Washington was intent on preventing IS from expanding in Aleppo province, which is currently largely divided between regime and rebel control.
"Washington seems really determined to stop IS from advancing against the rebels in Aleppo," said Pierret, a professor at the University of Edinburgh. The strikes showed Washington's "pragmatism", he said, noting that Al-Qaeda affiliate "Al-Nusra only constitutes a small part of the rebel forces that are fighting IS," in Aleppo, with moderate forces holding more territory. Syrian state television said government forces launched air strikes near Suran on "terrorists", the term used by Damascus for all those fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
It gave no further details. IS captured Suran a week ago and has been fighting an alliance of rebels including Al-Nusra and Islamist Ahrar al-Sham in the surrounding area. Both Al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham have been targeted in US-led raids and like IS, Al-Nusra is blacklisted as a "terrorist organisation" by Washington.