Following early reports that U.S. drones had struck targets in northern Iraq on Tuesday, it turns out that Syrian aircraft had executed the attacks on the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant. Pentagon officials would old say the U.S. has “no reason to dispute these reports.”
The brazen attack inside Iraq is a signal how Syria and northern Iraq have devolved into one battlefield, a defense analyst said.
“The border between Syria and Iraq has effectively been erased,” said Colin Kahl, a senior fellow and director of Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “There is one battle space, so I would expect that you would see Syrian forces who are battling [ISIL] hit on both sides of the border.”
This is especially complicated should those battles take place in the air. The U.S. is already flying surveillance flights over northern Iraq to monitor movements of ISIL. The U.S. military is also scouting potential targets for airstrikes should President Obama order them.
President Obama said airstrikes are on the table, but yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must pursue a unified government and lessen the Shia influence before U.S. airstrikes would be ordered.
But now Syria has beaten the U.S. to the punch raising the question whether a U.S. airstrike in northern Iraq means the U.S. is supporting Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.
And don’t forget Iran. The predominantly Shiite country of Iran has interests in stamping out the potential threat of ISIL. There are reports that Iranian special forces have again flooded over the Iraqi border to bolster Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia to ensure ISIL does not take down Baghdad.
So if the U.S. launches airstrikes, there’s a possibility a U.S. fighter could fly by an Iranian F-14 and a Syrian MiG-25 on the way to northern Iraq.
Syria’s strike changed the equation and made a complicated situation even tougher for the U.S. to navigate.