ISIS militants were treated to a U.S.-led coalition 4th of July fireworks display as the U.S. Air Force conducted at least 16 airstrikes Saturday and early Sunday morning against ISIS buildings and transit routes in its stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, a U.S. Army officials confirmed.
The strikes triggered successive explosions that rocked the city and created an air of panic among residents, according to activists. While the U.S.-led coalition, which the Obama administration admits if still figuring its precise plan, has only been selectively attacking small ISIS-held towns in Syria and going after high value targets.
The overnight attacks on Raqqa were notably more intense, indicating a possible change in the U.S. strategy towards the terror group.
“The significant airstrikes tonight were executed to deny Daesh [ISIS] the ability to move military capabilities throughout Syria and into Iraq,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Gilleran, in a statement.
Gilleran, who is the spokesperson for the Combined Joint Task Force’s Operation Inherent Resolve, acknowledged that the strikes were the “largest deliberate engagements” to date.
“It will have debilitating effects on [ISIS’] ability to move from Raqqa,” he elaborated.
Raqqa is the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic caliphate declared a year ago by the Islamic State group in territories it controls in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS, always media savvy, said only that 10 civilians were killed in the attack and published photos of dead victims, including two of young boys. The accuracy of the photos could not be confirmed, though a Raqqa-based anti-ISIS activist group reported eight civilians as being killed.
Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered, as the activists are named, confirmed at least one of the strikes targeted a group of ISIS militants in the center of the city. They confirmed another strike targeted an ISIS checkpoint and a third destroyed large parts of a brick factory controlled by the militants.
American military officials would not confirm what precisely was targeted or how the attacks were conducted.