Update On French Airstrikes In Syria

Nov 16, 2015
Originally published on November 16, 2015 4:35 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is known that at least eight attackers were involved, seven are dead. There's been a massive manhunt for the eighth and this attack has also been traced back to two individuals inside Islamic State territory in Syria, according to U.S. officials talking to our counterterrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston. Now, France has struck back at that territory, French warplanes hit the capital of the Islamic State, the Syrian city of Raqqa. And NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been following this part of the story. Hi, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What exactly did the French do?

BOWMAN: Well, Steve, the French mounted several dozen airstrikes on Raqqa, again the capital of ISIS. And this reminds me of what happened back in February, remember, when the Jordanian pilot was brutally murdered, burned in that cage by ISIS.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

BOWMAN: And the Jordanians responded as well with several dozen airstrikes against this very same town.

INSKEEP: And of course that didn't seem to change the course of the Islamic State - whether it did damage or not. How does this French strike compare, though, to what was already going on, the ongoing airstrikes against ISIS?

BOWMAN: Right, there are already multiple airstrikes against Raqqa and other parts of Syria, not to mention Iraq. And the U.S. also is supporting local ground troops in Syria. That's the latest. They've been dropping ammunition and weapons. They plan on sending in up to 50 special operators to help coordinate these attacks, heading toward the city of Raqqa. They hope to press Raqqa, but what I'm told is even with all that effort they still don't have enough troops - local ground troops - to go into Raqqa.

INSKEEP: Well, is that prompting U.S. officials to consider other, larger options?

BOWMAN: Well, Pentagon officials already have said they may send in more special operators, not as combat troops but as planners, advisers. And another thing - next door in Iraq, around the city of Ramadi, there's talk about putting maybe U.S. forces closer to the front lines with the Iraqi forces, maybe send in Apache attack helicopters, again, to push into Ramadi. This has not happened yet. The Iraqi forces have encircled the city, but they have not moved in. This is a lack of will to fight with the Iraqi security forces, unlike the Kurds, who, up in the north, are fighting quite well.

INSKEEP: So we heard in this program from Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He said there's still no appetite to send in ground combat forces from Western nations into Syria. But he did raise other options. People have talked about no fly zones. Schiff talked about what he called a safe zone, where ISIS would be blocked off from territory. What would it take to create something like a safe zone?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, you need ground troops to protect that safe zone and...

INSKEEP: Because airplanes can't do it.

BOWMAN: Right, and remember what happened, Steve, not long ago - the U.S.-trained rebels went into Syria and they were almost immediately rolled up by the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate there. You're going to need some sort of friendly ground troops in there to protect this safe zone. And you just don't have those troops right now.

INSKEEP: OK, Tom, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.