The United States has bombed militants near Baghdad in support of Iraqi forces, striking close to the capital for the first time in its expanded campaign against Islamic State jihadists.
But in a sign of their growing strength, a monitoring group said the jihadists had managed to bring down a Syrian warplane conducting strikes over their stronghold of Raqa in north-central Syria.
The US air strike against IS fighters in the Sadr al-Yusufiyah area, 25 kilometres from Baghdad, came as world diplomats pledged to support Iraq in its fight against the militants, and less than a week after US President Barack Obama ordered a “relentless” war against IS.
“US military forces continued to attack (IS) terrorists in Iraq, employing attack and fighter aircraft to conduct two air strikes Sunday and Monday in support of Iraqi security forces near Sinjar and southwest of Baghdad,” the US Central Command said in a statement.
“The air strike southwest of Baghdad was the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit (IS) targets as Iraqi forces go on offence, as outlined in the president’s speech last Wednesday.”
The strikes destroyed six IS vehicles near Sinjar and an IS position southwest of Baghdad that had been firing on Iraqi forces.
They bring the number of US air strikes across Iraq to 162.
Iraqi security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta overnight welcomed the expanded American action, saying the US “carried out an important strike against an enemy target in Sadr al-Yusufiyah.”
Sadr al-Yusufiyah lies in the Euphrates Valley, between the militant stronghold of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, and the key battleground of Jurf al-Sakhr, further south.
It is one of the closest front lines to Baghdad where Iraqi government forces and allied militia have struggled to defend their positions.
IS militants have seized a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria, declaring an Islamic “caliphate”, committing widespread atrocities and instituting a brutal interpretation of Islamic law.
As part of the extended campaign Washington has vowed to carry out strikes in Syria as well, despite warnings from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime against violating its airspace.
On Tuesday, the jihadists shot down a Syrian warplane conducting strikes against them, the first time they have done so since the regime began bombing their stronghold of Raqa in July, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“IS fighters fired on a military aircraft which crashed,” the Britain-based monitoring group said.
“It is the first aircraft shot down since the regime launched air strikes against the jihadists in July following their declaration of a caliphate in late June,” said the group, which relies on a wide network of doctors and activists for reports on the situation in Syria.
The expansion of the US air campaign came as representatives from about 30 countries and international organisations, including the United States, Russia and China, vowed during talks in Paris on Monday to support Iraq in the fight against IS.
A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned that US forces will target Syrian anti-aircraft systems if they take aim at American planes conducting strikes inside Syria against IS.
On the ground in Iraq, sporadic clashes broke out Monday near the town of Dhuluiyah, north of Baghdad, where security forces and allied tribesmen prepared for an operation against IS-led militants.
The area would appear to be the target of the next major drive against IS in Iraq, after a successful operation to break the siege of the town of Amerli farther north.
The Paris meeting was the latest in a series of frantic diplomatic efforts to build a broad global coalition against the jihadists, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said meetings would come “thick and fast” ahead of a UN General Assembly next week.[AFP]