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WASHINGTON, Nov 25, (Agencies): French warplanes destroyed an Islamic State command centre at Tal Afar, some 45 kilometres west of Mosul in Iraq, a French official said on Tuesday.
“We hit an Islamic State command centre at Tal Afar,” the official said during President Francois Hollande’s visit to meet his US counterpart Barack Obama in Washington.
“The target was destroyed.”
The Rafale fighter jets took off from the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier earlier in the day, the official said.
The United States and its allies launched a fresh round of daily air strikes against Islamic State on Tuesday, targeting the militant group with 18 strikes in Iraq and five in Syria, the US-led coalition leading the operations said in a statement.
In Iraq, the strikes near 10 cities included six near Ramadi that hit five Islamic State tactical units as well as three fighting positions and five weapons caches, among other targets, the coalition said in the statement, released on Wednesday.
In Syria, five strikes near three cities also hit five tactical units and two fighting positions, it said.
A Syrian military source said rebels are making heavy use of US-made anti-tank missiles paid for by Saudi Arabia and supplied via Turkey in recent weeks and the weapons are having an impact on the battlefield.
The so-called TOW missile is the most potent weapon in the arsenal of rebel groups battling President Bashar al-Assad, and has been seen in action more frequently since Russia intervened with air strikes on Syria on Sept 30.
A rebel group was shown using one of the guided missiles to destroy a grounded Russian helicopter in Syria on Tuesday.
Addressing the increased supplies of TOW missiles for the first time, the Syrian military source said they had an impact on the fighting, but played down their overall significance, saying the army was gaining ground.
“Through the course of the battles it became apparent that the terrorists have a bigger quantity of American anti-armour TOW weapons. They started using this weapon intensively,” said the source. The Syrian government describes all the insurgents fighting it as terrorists.
“This weapon, TOW, of course affects the work of the armoured divisions. Certainly, it is a well-known American weapon whose impact is known: it is effective against armoured vehicles,” the source said. “They use it heavily which indicates this weapon has become available to them.”
The comments are a further indication of how increased military support for rebels from Assad’s foreign enemies has helped the them confront a major, multi-pronged attack by the Syrian government and its allies Russia and Iran.
Senior sources close to Damascus told Reuters earlier this month that increased supplies of TOW missiles had slowed ground offensives by the Syrian army and foreign allies including Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and Hezbollah.
While the Syrian government has won back some ground, including south of Aleppo and in the northwestern province of Latakia, rebels have managed to advance in other areas including Hama province, where TOWs have been widely used. A representative of one rebel group supplied with TOW missiles said his fighters were not currently suffering from a shortage of the weapon, as they had earlier. He complained, however, that they still only had one launching tripod for the missiles. His group is fighting south of Aleppo.
TOW missiles have been supplied to rebels under a programme of military support for vetted Syrian groups that has in some cases included military training by the US Central Intelligence Agency, including on how to use TOW missiles.
Reuters reported on Oct 31 from Washington that the CIA, in collaboration with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, recently broadened the number of rebel groups to which it is clandestinely delivers weapons including TOW missiles.
General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations wing, was lightly injured in fighting against Syria rebels near Aleppo, a monitoring group and a security source said Wednesday.
Soleimani “was injured a few days ago” in an offensive in the southwest of Aleppo province, a security source on the ground told AFP.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, also said the general had been hurt.
He was “lightly injured three days ago in the Al-Eis area in the south of Aleppo province,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
For several days, reports have been circulating on social media claiming the powerful commander had been wounded or even killed in Syria, where Iran backs President Bashar al-Assad against an uprising that began in March 2011.
In response, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards, Rameza Sharif, said Tuesday that Soleimani was “in perfect health and full of energy.”
“He helps the Islamic resistance in Syria and Iraq,” Sharif added, according to SepahNews, the official site of the Revolutionary Guards.
Abdel Rahman said the commander was wounded while “leading military operations on the outskirts of Al-Eis, which is under the control of pro-regime forces.”
“Many Iranian fighters are present in the area,” he added.
Abdel Rahman said rebel groups launched a counteroffensive on Sunday in a bid to push regime forces from several areas in south Aleppo that they captured with support from Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah ground forces and Russia air strikes.
Russia, another key Assad ally, began air strikes in support of the government on Sept 30.
Last month, a US official said some 2,000 Iranian or Iranian-backed forces were participating in the regime’s Aleppo operations.
Iran has not officially acknowledged sending troops to Syria, but says it has “advisers” on the ground assisting regime forces.
Iran-backed Hezbollah also acknowledges its forces are fighting on the ground, and the presence of Iranian, Iraqi and Afghan “volunteers” has been documented.