France Launches New Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria

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French warplane
Photo: JOEL SAGET

On Saturday, French president François Hollande declared that the ISIS-linked shootings and bombings in Paris were “an act of war.” France has now responded in kind, launching major airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria on Sunday. “The French Ministry of Defense said it targeted a command post and a terrorist training camp, dropping 20 bombs on ISIS’s de facto capital in Raqqah, Syria,” ABC News reports. “The first target included a command post, jihadist recruiting center and a weapons warehouse,” the ministry said. As the New York Times notes, France’s previous strikes have been on a more limited scale, but clearly that is now changing as a result of Friday’s attacks.

Opposition activists in Raqqa said they heard at least 30 bombs, which hit clinics, a museum, a soccer stadium, and other buildings. They said hospitals have not reported any civilian casualties, but according to Washington Post, the city of about 200,000 is now without electricity.

France coordinated with U.S. forces prior to the airstrike, which was launched from bases in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. President Obama has reportedly ordered intelligence agencies to reassess ISIS’s capabilities in light of the attack, but White House officials said they do not expect the U.S. to drastically change its strategy. Senior administration officials told the Times that the focus is on intensifying current efforts against ISIS, such as airstrikes, assisting local allies, and targeting the terrorist group outside of Iraq and Syria.

Obama recently approved the deployment of another 50 Special Operations troops to assist Arab allies heading into Raqqa, but the U.S. probably won’t be sending in additional forces. “We don’t believe U.S. troops are the answer to the problem,” said Benjamin Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser. “The further introduction of U.S. troops to fully re-engage in ground combat in the Middle East is not the way to deal with this challenge.”

While White House officials said Obama agrees that the Paris attacks were an “act of war,” sources said Hollande’s use of the phrase complicated discussions between the U.S. and the rest of the coalition. French prime minister Manuel Valls used the term again while telling reporters that France will continue to participate in the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS in Syria. “We are at war, and because we are at war we are taking exceptional measures,” he said, according to the German state news-service Deutsche Welle. Valls further vowed that his government would chase down the attacks’ architects whether they reside in Europe, Syria, or Iraq.

The Paris attacks came just days after France claimed responsibility for an airstrike against an ISIS-controlled oil distribution center in Syria, the Associated Press reports. One of the shooters at the Bataclan concert hall Friday night cited France’s intervention in Syria as the impetus for the attack, French radio presenter Pierre Janaszak told Agence France-Presse.

The Islamic State echoed the shooter’s declaration online. “The stench of death will not leave their noses as long as they remain at the forefront of the Crusaders’ campaign, dare to curse our prophet, boast of a war on Islam in France, and strike Muslims in the lands of the caliphate with warplanes,” said a statement released by the group.

This post has been updated throughout.