U.S.-Led Coalition Launches More Strikes in Syria
Army officials claim need for "troops on the ground" to defeat ISIS while humanitarian groups plead for caution
The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) launched a new wave of airstrikes in Syria on Saturday, aiming at least in part at wheat fields in the country's eastern region where they claim a jihadi group is hiding.
The strikes continued after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Pentagon that defeating ISIS could not happen without boots on the ground. Although Dempsey said troops would not have to be American, he did not rule the possibility out entirely, telling the Pentagon, "If you're suggesting that I might, at some point, recommend that we need a large ground force to counter ISIL, the answer to that is also absolutely."
"[T]here is no air power alone solution to ISIL, either in Iraq or in Syria," Dempsey said.
Britain joined the coalition on Friday, becoming the most recent Western country to throw its weight behind the U.S.'s ever-growing bombing campaign against the country that has seen nearly half of its population become refugees since 2011.
Strikes also targeted the town of Kobane throughout Friday night and early into Saturday morning, although the coalition has yet to confirm whether the warplanes that were spotted circling the area were part of their efforts to wipe out the militant group recently dubbed by President Barack Obama as a "network of death."
An estimated 140,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes over the past week since the U.S. began its most recent military intervention in the region on Tuesday, the BBC reports—a fraught situation as these new refugees try to cross into Turkey, which has attempted to close its borders.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on the countries who had joined the coalition to spare civilian life and "uphold the fundamental principle of human dignity" in the war-torn region where continuing humanitarian aid has only grown increasingly dangerous. "Hundreds of thousands have died, millions are homeless, livelihoods have been wrecked and the humanitarian situation continues to worsen. At the same time, it is getting increasingly dangerous for humanitarian organizations and workers to help those who are suffering," the group said in a press release.
"The conflicts in Syria and Iraq are endangering more people with every passing day," said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC director of operations. "Under international humanitarian law, every party to these conflicts must refrain from harming civilians, must protect medical personnel and facilities, and must allow humanitarian workers to bring help."
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights organization, 31 massive explosions were heard in the al-Raqqa province from coalition airstrikes, with human losses reported. Other raids followed in several different regions.
Dempsey also said Friday at the Pentagon that the coalition "might at some point" consider no-fly zones or other buffer spaces to protect civilian life along the Turkey-Syria border, but added the foreboding caveat that creating those safe zones would require more warplanes to disable the Syrian government's air defense system.
Hagel told officials the airstrikes were costing the U.S. between $7 million and $10 million a day.