PENTAGON: The primary target of last night’s air strikes in Syria appears to have been the Khorasan group, an al Qaeda offshoot that was plotting what appeared to be “imminent attacks” against Western targets that may have included the United States.
The Khorasan group received “the majority of” the 47 Tomahawk cruise missile strikes launched by the United States, the Joint Director of Operations Lt. Gen. William Mayville told reporters late this morning during a briefing on last night’s air strikes.
The al Qaeda offshoot was in the midst of planning strikes against Europe and had recruited Westerners to help them, Mayville said.
But Mayville didn’t really disclose the scale of the strikes against either ISIL or the Khorasan group. He did not discuss the number of aircraft involved or the number of sorties flown. Nor did he offer a breakdown of the relative sizes of the various combat forces, though he did say the preponderance of strikes were carried out by US forces.
However, we know that F-22s, F-16s, F-18s and KC-135s took part. We’re certain that Predators and Reapers took part, though no one said so at today’s briefing. The UAE almost certainly used its Airbus A330 airborne tankers to refuel their combat aircraft.
Two ships launched the 47 cruise missiles and the USS George H.W. Bush carrier group provided the F-18s. EA-18 Growlers probably took part to offer electronic warfare cover to the allied fleet. So you are probably looking at a combined fleet of at least 30 aircraft from the United States. We’ll have to wait to hear more from the Arab governments before we get any idea of the extent of their participation.
One of the most interesting things to watch in what Rear Adm. John Kirby called “only the beginning“ of the effort to degrade and destroy ISIL will be how the air campaign can remain effective as ISIL disperses its forces and mixes them with civilians, as it is already doing.
Targeting will depend more and more heavily on good intelligence. I asked Mayville how they’re going to ensure the best results (not kill lots of civilians) and he made a good stab at it, saying aircraft aren’t as dependent on boots on the ground as they used to be — though he made clear it’s what the military would prefer. Predators and Reapers can use their targeting lasers to lead precision munitions in to the target, and some aircraft have enough ISR sensors to provide their own targeting — if the intelligence is good enough.
Mayville did not answer my question about whether the allies would train the good Syrian opposition to help us as ground controllers. The fact that he didn’t answer may well mean that we are or, at least, that we are getting decent targeting intelligence from them.