fb-pixel Skip to main content

Impact of French strikes appears limited

BEIRUT — Despite heavy French bombardment of the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa this week, damage to the extremist group appears to be minimal, according to analysts and Syrian activists.

The airstrikes — retaliation for Friday’s attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Paris — hit such targets as a command post and militant-training center in and around the Syrian city, French officials said.

But after over a year of US coalition airstrikes, the Islamic State has learned to secure its weapons, communications systems, and fighters in fortified bunkers or densely populated residential areas where bombing would inflict intolerably high civilian casualties, analysts and activists said.


The French attacks highlight a limitation of air power, said Theodore Karasik, a Dubai-based specialist on military issues in the Middle East. Rarely is it enough to subdue enemies, he said.

‘‘The Islamic State, like any other terrorist group, has adapted and developed its own underground networks in order to safeguard their prized assets,’’ Karasik said.

‘‘Airstrikes can be effective, but you need a ground component to go along with them.’’

Raqqa, a city of about 200,000 people in eastern Syria, fell to the Islamic State in 2014 and has come under air bombardment by multiple countries as well as the Syrian government. The city is the symbolic heart of the extremist group’s self-declared caliphate, or Islamic state, and home to senior leaders in the group, analysts say.

A US-led coalition has attacked the group at its strongholds in eastern Syria and northern Iraq for more than a year.

Russia, which in September began launching airstrikes against armed opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, also launched air attacks on the city on Tuesday. Russia, which does not coordinate with the US coalition, last month conducted air raids on Raqqa that killed as many as 27 civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


The monitoring group said more than 30 Islamic State fighters in Raqqa had been killed during airstrikes in recent days, and family members of the group’s leaders left the city.