(Washington, D.C.) — The Pentagon said today that most of the 40-plus Tomahawk cruise missiles that the United States launched in its airstrikes in Syria last night were aimed at members of a fairly unknown al Qaeda affiliate, the Khorasan Group, who were plotting “imminent” attacks against the American homeland.
“Intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan Group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland,” U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a Pentagon press briefing today.
The Pentagon said the United States took action against the group to thwart an imminent attack against the U.S. homeland.
“In terms of the Khorasan group, which is a network of seasoned al Qaeda veterans, these strikes were undertaken to disrupt imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western targets,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), during the press conference. “These terrorists have established a safe haven in Syria to plan external attacks and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations. The United States took action to protect our interests and to remove their capability to act.”
“We’ve been watching this group closely for some time and we believe the Khorasan Group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe or the homeland. We know that the Khorasan Group has attempted to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives or infiltrate back into their homelands,” added Mayville. “The Khorasan Group is clearly not focused on either the [Syrian President Bashar] Assad regime or the Syrian people. They are establishing roots in Syria in order to advance attacks against the West and the homeland.”
Mayville explained that in the first of three waves of strikes against jihadists in Syria, U.S. Navy ships in the Red Sea and the Northern Arabian Gulf launched 40 plus Tomahawk cruise missiles in eastern and northern Syria near Aleppo and Raqqah.
“The majority of the Tomahawk strikes were against Khorasan group compounds, their manufacturing workshops, and training camps,” he said.
Mayville added that it was too early to tell what effect the airstrikes had on the Khorasan Group.
Nevertheless, Kirby told ABC News that the Pentagon believes that the Khorasan Group extremists who were plotting and planning attacks against the United States “have been eliminated and we’re going to continue as I said to assess the effectiveness of our strikes going through today.”
Although five Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Jordan, and Qatar aided the airstrikes in Syria, those countries did participate in the U.S. strikes against the Khorasan Group militants.
Mayville said none of the coalition partners took part in the airstrikes against Khorasan.
During a speech from the White House South Lawn today, President Obama, briefly and without going into much detail, acknowledged the strikes against the Khorasan Group.
“Last night, we also took strikes to disrupt plotting against the United States and our allies by seasoned al Qaeda operatives in Syria who are known as the Khorasan group,” said the president. “Once again it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.”
Obama said there is bi-partisan support in Congress for the U.S. military actions in Syria.
The U.S.-led airstrikes, until now, had been described as necessary to confronting the threat posed by Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) terrorists.
“Our strikes were against two particular groups — ISIL and the Khorasan Group,” said Kirby today. “The decision to conduct these strikes was made yesterday by the U.S. Central Command commander under authorization granted him by the commander-in-chief. The strikes were taken as part of the president’s comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL and to protect the United States and its partners.”
Besides Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from Navy Ships, the nighttime raids against targets in Syria also involved land- and sea-based aircrafts.
ABC News reported that the Khorasan Group in Syria is made of an estimated 50 seasoned jihadi fighters in Aleppo.
U.S intelligence officials have said the most of the fighters come from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Pentagon described the Khorasan Group as an offshoot of the al Nusra Front, an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
U.S. intelligence officials had detected a plot by the Khorasan Group, working with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), to use Western nationals recruited in Syria to smuggle hard-to-detect explosives that can dodge airport security onto U.S.-bound airliners.
Reportedly, an al-Qaeda leader sent the Khorasan extremists into Syria to recruit Americans and Europeans who possess passports that allows them to easily board planes en route to the United States.
According to The Long War Journal, Khorasan “refers to a region that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. Jihadists consider the Khorasan to be the area where they will inflict the first defeat against their enemies in the Muslim version of Armageddon. The final battle is to take place in the Levant – Israel, Syria, and Lebanon.”