The United States has launched new airstrikes against the Khorasan Group in northwestern Syria, the first operations against the terror group since the opening night of airstrikes in Syria on September 22. The new strikes indicate that the U.S. will continue to target the small terror group of al Qaeda veterans that U.S. officials said was in the final stages of executing a terror attack focusing on U.S. and western aviation.
A US official confirmed to ABC News that airstrikes were launched Wednesday night at targets in northwestern Syria where the Khorasan Group has been operating. The group is made up of approximately 50 al Qaeda veterans who operated in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan who moved their operations to northwestern Syria, where that nation’s three-year civil war has afforded them the cover to plan terror operations on western targets.
The official declined to identify what targets were struck and an assessment of Wednesday night’s strikes, citing operational concerns.
The first indication of U.S. airstrikes Wednesday night emerged on social media, with reports that targets had been hit in Idlib Province north of Aleppo. Specifically, the reports said targets had been struck in the towns of Saramada and Kfar Deriyan.
Those reports speculated that American warplanes had struck at targets belonging to the Islamic rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is affiliated with al Qaeda. Khorasan Group members work under al-Nusra’s protection, and U.S. officials have said in the past that the groups share resources and co-locate their operations.
Most of the 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched on Sept. 22 were aimed at Khorasan Group targets while waves of aircraft struck ISIS targets in northern and eastern Syria. U.S. officials said the Khorasan Group had been struck because it was in the final stages of executing an attack on U.S. or western aircraft. Some officials said the attack on the Khorasan Group had been moved up out of concerns that senior leaders had been tipped off by American media reports the previous week that U.S intelligence had a good read on their operations.
In early October, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that the airstrikes had succeeded in disrupting the group’s plots “but the unknown is for how long.”
He added the group is still “capable of hitting the homeland because they have some skills, honed over the course of the last decade, and they are in collaboration with each other.”
Dempsey said the U.S. was still trying to determine at the time if the Khorasan Group’s leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, a 33-year-old Kuwaiti was killed in the strikes. However, Dempsey said it appeared that another unidentified senior leader may have been killed in the strikes.
Earlier this week, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby could not provide reporters with an assessment of whether the group’s senior leaders had been killed in the strikes.
“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.
He said the group still remained a “dangerous entity” that continued to plan to strike at western targets, “and we take that threat very, very seriously. I think I wouldn't go beyond that.”