US Airstrikes Pound Islamic State Targets

American fighter jets, drones and other aircraft pounded Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria on Friday.

The attacks came on a day that Britain, Denmark and Belgium announced they will carry out airstrikes against the group in Iraq.

U.S. Central Command said four Islamic State tanks were destroyed in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province. A group monitoring the war in Syria said Friday that oil facilities were the apparent target of overnight strikes in Deir el-Zour. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a command center for the Islamic State group was also hit.

In northern Syria, video posted to social media purports to show Kurdish fighters launching attacks on Islamic State targets near the town of Kobani, which for days has been the center of a struggle between the two sides.

The U.S. news network CNN aired live coverage from across the border in Turkey of Islamic State fighters moving across a hillside near Kobani while engaging in gunfire with what were believed to be Kurdish fighters.

In Iraq, CENTCOM said seven strikes targeted armored vehicles, including three Humvees and a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle. It said several other vehicles and outposts were hit in strikes near Kirkuk, west of Baghdad, and near al-Qaim.

US trainers in Saudi Arabia

As airstrikes continued, U.S. teams tasked with training select Syrian rebel groups were getting in place to start their work.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced at a press conference with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, that assessment teams have arrived in Saudi Arabia. The teams are part of the U.S. military’s plan to train elements of the Syrian opposition to fight Islamic State militants.

The defense secretary said the opposition fighters are being vetted by U.S. military, diplomatic, and intelligence experts to determine which Syrians will be trained, but the rebel groups will choose their own leadership.

Hagel also said Friday that the ongoing strikes deny Islamic State militants the freedom of movement. He said more than 200 airstrikes have been conducted in Iraq this week and 43 in Syria. He also said he spoke with Britain’s defense secretary and welcomed Britain’s decision to join the air campaign in Iraq.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said Friday the military campaign is an Iraq-first strategy, but not an Iraq-only strategy. He said the strikes in Syria show Islamic State fighters they have no safe haven. He added that any ground troops he might recommend be used in Iraq in the future would be international, and comprised of Iraqis, Kurds and Syrian opposition forces.

Russia condemns strikes

Speaking at the United Nations Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the airstrikes in Syria are a violation of international law because the US-led coalition has not received permission from Damascus. Lavrov said, even now, the coalition should seek Syrian cooperation not only for legal reasons but to ensure “the efficiency of the effort.”

Lavrov’s statement was the strongest criticism yet at the UN General Assembly where most speakers have spoken out against Islamic State threats.

In another development, Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt announced Friday that her country would provide seven F-16 fighter jets to carry out airstrikes in Iraq. Belgium is contributing six F-16s.

Before the vote in Britain’s parliament to join the strikes in Iraq, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned a military campaign against the Islamic State could take years.  But he said the air strikes are necessary because the Islamic State has what he called a “proven intention to attack our country and our people.”

The Islamic State swept through large parts of Iraq in June, defeating U.S.-trained-and-armed Iraqi forces, seizing large amounts of their weapons.  It already controlled large amounts of territory in Syria, where it is fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

A U.S.-led coalition has been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria for the last several days and in Iraq for the last several weeks.

VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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