US air strikes kill more than 100 ‘al-Qaeda militants’ at training camp in Syria
More than 100 Islamist fighters have been killed by US air strikes on a training camp in Syria as American forces expand their assault beyond Isis.
The Department of Defense said planes and drones were involved in Thursday’s operation on the Shaykh Sulayman camp in northern Syria, on the last day of Barack Obama’s presidency.
JFS claimed it split from al-Qaeda last year, when it changed its name from Jabhat al-Nusra, while the Nour al-Din al-Zenki movement received American weapons including TOW anti-tank missiles as one of dozens of “vetted groups”.
Its fighters filmed themselves beheading a Palestinian boy accused of spying last year, and has abducted and tortured journalists and humanitarian workers.
Captain Jeff Davis, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, said the camp had been operational since at least 2013.
“The removal of this training camp disrupts training operations and discourages hardline Islamist and Syrian opposition groups from joining or cooperating with al-Qaeda on the battlefield,” he added.
The US extended air strikes from Iraq into Syria in 2014, followed by other members of the coalition including Britain, with the stated aim of targeting Isis.
But the bombing campaign has been increasingly expanding to include al-Qaeda linked groups including JFS, which has been gathering power and territory across Syria while international efforts have focused on its rival Isis.
More than 150 al-Qaeda militants have been killed so far this year, the Pentagon said, including several high profile leaders and militants plotting terror attacks in the West.
“These strikes, conducted in quick succession, degrade al-Qaeda’s capabilities, weaken their resolve, and cause confusion in their ranks,” Mr Davis said.
JFS released a statement condemning the strike and accusing the US of aiding Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which Mr Obama’s administration opposed.
Reports on jihadi Telegram channels said the joint training camp was “preparing dozens of Mujahideen for the coming battle against regime forces and Shia militias”.
They claimed at least 110 “martyrs” had been killed, publishing graphic footage showing body parts strewn amid the rubble of the destroyed camp.
An official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the strike was carried out by a B-52 bomber and unmanned aircraft that dropped 14 munitions.
The camp, near the border between Aleppo and Idlib province, is in a region expected to be the Syrian President’s next target following his force’s assault on rebel-held parts of Aleppo city.
Civilians were allowed to cross into government-controlled areas, while fighters fled to the east into regions controlled by JFS and other Islamist and opposition rebels.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said JFS and al-Zinki fighters were killed by drone at a joint camp known as Regiment 111, although it was unclear whether the report referred to the same attack.
Islamist activists accused the US of injuring children and civilians in recent strikes, including one on a car carrying a high profile militant, showing a young boy in hospital.