PARIS – French fighter jets bombed a series of ISIS sites in Raqqa, Syria, on Sunday in what officials described as a major bombardment.
The airstrikes came two days after a series of terrorist attacks in Paris. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, which France’s President described as “an act of war.”
ISIS claims Raqqa as the capital of its so-called caliphate. The targets in Sunday’s airstrikes included a command center, a recruitment center, an ammunition storage base and a training camp for the terror group, said Mickael Soria, press adviser for France’s defense minister.
Twelve aircraft, including 10 fighter jets, were involved in the airstrikes, Soria said. Twenty bombs were dropped, he said, and all of the targets were destroyed.
A pro-ISIS news agency claimed the sites had been abandoned before they were hit.
Military analyst: Strikes are ‘symbolic’
France has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria since September as part of a U.S.-led coalition.
The timing likely was no coincidence, analysts said.
“Clearly, it’s a military activity, but it really sends a very strong political message, and it’s all for internal consumption within France,” said retired Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks, a CNN military analyst. “This is very visceral. The types of targets they strike right now really are symbolic. From the French perspective, something has to be done.”
It’s not just difficult to know what’s going on inside the ISIS stronghold, said Janine di Giovanni, Newsweek’s Middle East editor. It’s also hard, she said, to gauge the best strategy for fighting back.
“I think that it’s very complicated, launching airstrikes like this as a retribution, but also as a way of wiping out ISIS,” she said. “Because, the other thing is, that you can’t wipe out an ideology. You might be able to suppress them militarily, or you might be able to cut off some of their lines, but you can’t suppress the key message they’re spreading.”
What impact did airstrikes have?
It’s hard to know what’s happening on the ground inside Raqqa. Since ISIS took over, the city has become increasingly isolated — with an activist group known as Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently providing outsiders with a harrowing glimpse of the city’s transformation.
On Sunday, the activist collective said that the city appeared to be bracing for an attack even before the French airstrikes began.
ISIS fighters appeared to have deserted many areas, a member of the group said. Streets were empty, the group said, markets were less crowded than usual and sheikhs in mosques said they expected the city to be struck.
Streets were empty, the activists said, markets were less crowded than usual and sheikhs in mosques said they expected the city to be struck.
The airstrikes hit several ISIS headquarters, according to Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, but it was unclear what the damage was. So far, the group said, there have been no reports of civilian casualties.