US Airstrikes Reportedly Target New Islamic Rebel Group in Syria; US Official Denies Attack

U.S. airstrikes
A U.S.-led coalition aircraft flying over Kobanii, as seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, October 15, 2014. American-led forces conducted 21 airstrikes near Kobani, Syria, in the last two days to slow the advance of Islamic State militants, the U.S. military said on Tuesday, warning the situation on the ground is fluid as militants try to gain territory. |

A monitoring agency reported on Thursday that the U.S.-led coalition has conducted airstrikes for the first time against the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic rebel group in Syria, but a senior U.S. military official denied those specific attacks.

"Coalition warplanes targeted vehicle for Jabhat al-Nusra in Sarmada town near Syria-Turkey borders, and its HQ in Harim city, reports of human losses (including two children). Coalition warplanes also targeted for the first time a HQ for Ahrar al-Sham Islamic movement in Basbqa town near Bab al-Hawa crossing," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been monitoring the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

A senior U.S. military official, who wasn't named, denied the information and told CNN that airstrikes on Wednesday night targeted the Khorasan Group, but not the al-Nusra or any other groups.

The coalition "has taken additional strikes against the Khorasan Group in Syria. We are still assessing the results of those strikes," he said.

CNN noted that the Ahrar al-Sham Sunni Muslim group is not affiliated with ISIS, and is not on the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations. The coalition has so far mostly targeted ISIS, seeking to stop the jihadists from their advancement in the region.

The Khorasan is a separate Islamic group that the U.S. has marked after failing to kill its main leadership in September following initial strikes. The group was reportedly formed by senior al-Qaeda members based in Pakistan who traveled to Syria.

U.S. Central Command has said that strikes against the Khorasan Group are aimed at "disrupting the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests."

Earlier this week, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said that the U.S. is continuing to target the leadership of the group.

"We know we hit the targets that we were aiming at and had good effect on them," said Kirby. "It remains to be seen if there was a like effect on actual leaders."

There are different assessments on Ahrar al-Sham's role in the conflict, with some members believed to fight alongside al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, but against ISIS.

Al-Qaeda has reportedly renounced ISIS in its mission to establish an "Islamic caliphate" over Iraq and Syria.

Some Syrians, however, allegedly see Ahrar members as moderate rebels who have protected them in the ongoing three-year civil war in Syria.

ISIS has meanwhile continued to be heavily active in the war-torn country, and earlier this week captured two gas fields and attacked a major air force base near the city of Homs. The terror group is seeking to bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who in turn is at war with a number of other rebel groups in Syria that have been classified as "moderates" by the U.S. government.

"So after the Sha'ar company and the positions surrounding it became part of the land of the caliphate, the soldiers advanced, conquering new areas, and all praise is due to Allah," the Islamic State said in a statement. The militants also posted photos on social media showing some of the slain soldiers that they had killed in the battle for the gas fields.

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