US warplanes bombed an al-Qaida training camp in Syria, killing more than 100 militants, marking the second major US counter-terrorism strike in the final hours of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Pentagon has said. A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt Jeff Davis, said yesterday the camp in Idlib province had been active since at least 2013. “The removal of this training camp disrupts training operations and discourages hard-line Islamist and Syrian opposition groups from joining or cooperating with Al-Qaida on the battlefield,” Davis said.
The Syria strike was carried out by one B-52 bomber and an undisclosed number of US aerial drones. It happened at about noon Washington time on Thursday, less than 24 hours after a combination of B-2 stealth bombers and drones struck two military camps in a remote part of Libya, killing 80 to 90 Islamic State militants.
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Obama specifically authorised the Libya strike. It was not immediately clear whether the Syria strike required his direct approval.
The militants killed in the Syria attack were described by one defense official as “core” al-Qaida members, among a number who had moved to Syria early last year to establish a foothold. The official distinguished these militants from members of the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which is an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.
Davis said Thursday’s attack capped a string of successful strikes against al-Qaida this month. He said the strikes have killed more than 150 members of the group since Jan 1. They include Mohammad Habib Boussadoun al-Tunisi, an external operations leader, killed last Tuesday, the spokesman said. “These strikes, conducted in quick succession, degrade al-Qaida’s capabilities, weaken their resolve, and cause confusion in their ranks,” Davis said.