Syria strikes militants as US targets them in Iraq

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Syria strikes militants as US targets them in Iraq
These Are The UN Peacekeepers From Fiji That Were Captured by The Al-Nusra Front. #Syria #Iraq http://t.co/rF2GXP6UOf
In a picture taken from the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, a United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) convoy manoeuvres in the buffer zone as they are escorted by Syrian rebel fighters on a motorcycle near the Syrian village of Jubata Al Khashab on September 2, 2014. Al-Qaeda-linked Syria rebels who are holding more than 40 United Nations peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights are demanding they be expunged from a UN terror blacklist, Fiji revealed. AFP PHOTO/ MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
In a picture taken from the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, a United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) convoy manoeuvres in the buffer zone as they are escorted by a Syrian rebel fighter on a motorcycle near the Syrian village of Jubata Al Khashab on September 2, 2014. Al-Qaeda-linked Syria rebels who are holding more than 40 United Nations peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights are demanding they be expunged from a UN terror blacklist, Fiji revealed. AFP PHOTO/ MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
A United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) car enters the UN headquarters, in the demilitarised zone, near the Quneitra border crossing in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights on September 2, 2014. Al-Qaeda-linked Syria rebels who are holding more than 40 United Nations peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights are demanding they be expunged from a UN terror blacklist, Fiji revealed. AFP PHOTO/ MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
In a picture taken from the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, a United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) convoy manoeuvres in the buffer zone as they are escorted by Syrian rebel fighters on a motorcycle near the Syrian village of Jubata Al Khashab on September 2, 2014. Al-Qaeda-linked Syria rebels who are holding more than 40 United Nations peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights are demanding they be expunged from a UN terror blacklist, Fiji revealed. AFP PHOTO/ MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
A United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) convoy is escorted by an Israeli army vehicle on the border of the buffer zone near the Druze village of Buqaata in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on September 2, 2014. Al-Qaeda-linked Syria rebels who are holding more than 40 United Nations peacekeepers hostage in the Golan Heights are demanding they be expunged from a UN terror blacklist, Fiji revealed. AFP PHOTO/ MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Fiji says no word on location of UN peacekeepers seized by Syria militants http://t.co/pEnKhNcIuj http://t.co/x87CWdTn0U
#GolanHeights reports in Manila say #fiji peacekeepers held by Al Qaeda Nusra .#Filipino PKs refusing to disarm http://t.co/xblMTKuq66
FILE- This undated image posted by the Raqqa Media Center, a Syrian opposition group, on Monday, June 30, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State group during a parade in Raqqa, Syria. The Gulf nation of Qatar is hitting back at suggestions that it supports the Islamic State extremist group, saying that “determined, collective action” is needed to end sectarian violence gripping Iraq and Syria. Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah unequivocally denied funding the extremist group. (AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center- File)
FILE- This undated image posted by the Raqqa Media Center, a Syrian opposition group, on Monday, June 30, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State during a parade with a missile in Raqqa, Syria. The Gulf nation of Qatar is hitting back at suggestions that it supports the Islamic State extremist group, saying that “determined, collective action” is needed to end sectarian violence gripping Iraq and Syria. Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah unequivocally denied funding the extremist group. (AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center)
This March 23, 2008 photo provided by the Hennepin County, Minn. Sheriff's Office shows Douglas McAuthur McCain. On Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, a U.S. official said McCain, a U.S. citizen, is believed to have been killed in Syria and was there to fight alongside a terrorist group, most likely the Islamic State. (AP Photo/Hennepin County, Minn. Sheriff's Office)
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem speaks during a press conference, giving the first public comments by a senior Assad official on the threat posed by the Islamic State group, in Damascus, Syria on Monday, August 25, 2014. Al-Moallem warned the U.S. not to conduct airstrikes inside Syria against the Islamic State group without Damascus’ consent, saying any such attack would be considered an aggression. Al-Moallem also said that Syria is ready to work with regional states and the international community amid the onslaught of Islamic militants there and in Iraq, adding that the Syrian government is a crucial partner in the war on terror. (AP Photo/SANA)
President Barack Obama pauses as he speak in Edgartown, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, about the killing of American journalist James Foley by militants with the Islamic State extremist group. The president said the US will continue to confront Islamic State extremists despite the brutal murder of journalist James Foley. Obama said the entire world is "appalled" by Foley's killing. The president says he spoke Wednesday with Foley's family and offered condolences. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
In this photo provided by an anti-Bashar Assad activist group Edlib News Network (ENN), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, anti-Syrian government protesters carry banners and a giant Syrian revolution flag during a demonstration in Idlib province, northern Syria, Friday, Aug 22, 2014. The death toll from three years of Syria's civil war has risen to more than 191,000 people, the United Nations reported Friday. (AP Photo/Edlib News Network ENN)
In this photo taken during a Syrian government-led media tour, a traffic sign stands across from buildings damaged in fighting between Syrian troops and rebels in Mleiha, some 10 kilometers (6 miles) southeast of downtown Damascus, Syria, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Syrian government troops captured the fiercely contested suburb of the capital Thursday after five months of heavy fighting, flushing rebels from their last hideouts and quickly moving to crush pockets of resistance in the surrounding countryside, activists and state media said. (AP Photo)
An elderly Iraqi Yazidi man arrives at Nowruz camp, in Derike, Syria, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. In the camps here, Iraqi refugees have new heroes: Syrian Kurdish fighters who battled militants to carve an escape route to tens of thousands trapped on a mountaintop. While the U.S. and Iraqi militaries dropped food and water to the starving members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, the Kurds took it on themselves to rescue them, a sign of how Syria’s Kurds, like Iraq’s, are using the region’s conflicts to establish their own rule. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (C) looks on following a press conference on August 25, 2014 in the Syrian capital Damascus. Any air strikes against jihadists in Syria must be coordinated with Damascus beforehand, Muallem said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken during a Syrian government-led media tour, a man operates a bulldozer to clear debris created during battles between Syrian troops and rebels off a street in Mleiha, some 10 kilometers (6 miles) southeast of downtown Damascus, Syria, Friday, Aug. 15, 2014. Syrian government troops captured the fiercely contested suburb of the capital Thursday after five months of heavy fighting, flushing rebels from their last hideouts and quickly moving to crush pockets of resistance in the surrounding countryside, activists and state media said. (AP Photo)
DAMASCUS, SYRIA - AUGUST 24: Syrian people search for bodies of wounded and death Syrians after a bomb attack of Syrian regime forces on Syria's Zabadani region, close to the border with Lebanon in Damascus, Syria on 24 August, 2014. 10 people died during the bomb attack. (Photo by Yusuf al Bostany/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DAMASCUS, SYRIA - AUGUST 24: Syrian people search for bodies of wounded and death Syrians after a bomb attack of Syrian regime forces on Syria's Zabadani region, close to the border with Lebanon in Damascus, Syria on 24 August, 2014. 10 people died during the bomb attack. (Photo by Yusuf al Bostany/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Syrian living in Jordan shouts slogans against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a rally outside of the Syrian Embassy in the capital Amman, on August 21, 2014, as they gather to mark the first anniversary of a chemical weapons attack on the capital's Ghouta region, a stronghold of the rebel movement, which the United States estimated killed up to 1,400 people. Human Rights Watch said that hundreds of victims of a chemical weapons attack in Syria remained without justice one year on, days after Damascus's stockpile was completely destroyed. AFP PHOTO/KHALIL MAZRAAWI (Photo credit should read KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey hold a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, August 21, 2014. Hagel warned that the Islamic State is more than a traditional 'terrorist group' and better armed, trained and funded than any recent threat. 'They marry ideology and a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well funded. This is beyond anything we have seen,' Hagel told reporters. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 18: Members of Syrian Islamic Front and Syrian opposition Mujahidin Brigade members guard to fight against the Islamic State (IS), formerly known Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ,in Mari village, Aleppo, Syria on August 18, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 17: A woman shows a photograph as more then thousand participants of several oriental christian groups gather to protest against the ongoing violence against their brethren in Iraq and Syria by ISIS fighters on August 17, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Tens of thousands of Yazidis, who practice their own religion and are neither Christian nor Muslim have fled targeted violence from ISIS Muslim Sunni fighters in the region of northern Iraq that borders Syria and Kurdish regions. ISIS has targeted Christians and Shia Muslims as well. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
Demonstrators at a rally supporting Kurdistan hold placards protesting against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in front of the White House on August 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. Jihadists carried out a 'massacre' in the northern Iraqi village of Kocho, killing dozens of people, most of them members of the Yazidi religious minority, officials said on Saturday. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
DAMASCUS, SYRIA - AUGUST 15: A view of ruined buildings in El-Muleyha region of Damascus, seized by regime forces on previous day, in Damascus, Syria on 15 August, 2014. (Photo by Kasm Ebu Muhammed/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
HANOVER, GERMANY - AUGUST 16: Ethnic Yazidi wave flags and protest against the ongoing attacks against Yazidi in northern Iraq on August 16, 2014 in Hanover, Germany. Tens of thousands of Yazidi, who practice their own religion and are neither Christian nor Muslim, have fled targeted violence from ISIS Muslim Sunni fighters in the region of northern Iraq that borders Syria and Kurdish regions. An estimated 90,000 Yazidi live in Germany, more than in any other country in Europe. According to offical police sources, more than 10.000 demonstraters participated in the rally. (Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)
THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN ON A GOVERNMENT-GUIDED TOUR A Syrian government bulldozer clears the rubble and debris from a street in Mleiha on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on August 15, 2014. Syrian government forces retook the key town southeast of the capital on August 14, after a months-long battle against rebels, a military source and state television said. AFP PHOTO/LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN ON A GOVERNMENT-GUIDED TOUR Two men walk past the debris of building in Mleiha on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on August 15, 2014. Syrian government forces retook the key town southeast of the capital on August 14, after a months-long battle against rebels, a military source and state television said. AFP PHOTO/LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN ON A GOVERNMENT-GUIDED TOUR Syrian government forces gather around a map for instructions in Mleiha on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on August 15, 2014. Syrian government forces retook the key town southeast of the capital on August 14, after a months-long battle against rebels, a military source and state television said. AFP PHOTO/LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
THIS PICTURE WAS TAKEN ON A GOVERNMENT-GUIDED TOUR Syrian government forces flash the victory sign as they walk in a street in Mleiha on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on August 15, 2014. Syrian government forces retook the key town southeast of the capital on August 14, after a months-long battle against rebels, a military source and state television said. AFP PHOTO/LOUAI BESHARA (Photo credit should read LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Syrian Kurdish Peshmerga fighter stands guard as displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community arrive at Nowruz camp, in Derike, Syria, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. In the camps here, Iraqi refugees have new heroes: Syrian Kurdish fighters who battled militants to carve an escape route to tens of thousands trapped on a mountaintop. While the U.S. and Iraqi militaries dropped food and water to the starving members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, the Kurds took it on themselves to rescue them, a sign of how Syria’s Kurds, like Iraq’s, are using the region’s conflicts to establish their own rule. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)
Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community cross the Syria-Iraq border at Feeshkhabour bridge over Tigris River at Feeshkhabour border point, in northern Iraq, Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014. Kurdish authorities at the border believe some 45,000 Yazidis passed the river crossing in the past week and thousands more are still stranded in the mountains. (AP Photo/ Khalid Mohammed)
Lebanese army reinforcements arrive to the outskirts of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese army soldiers flash victory signs while in an armored personnel carrier as reinforcements arrive to the outskirts of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese army soldiers sit on top of a military truck as reinforcements arrive to the outskirts of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees packed cars and pickup trucks Monday, fleeing an eastern border town that was overrun by militants from neighboring Syria as Lebanese troops fight to liberate the area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
White House press secretary Josh Earnest gestures during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, where he took questions on ISIS, Iraq, and Syria. He also received congratulations for his newborn baby. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
This image made from undated video posted during the weekend of June 28, 2014 on a social media account frequently used for communications by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows Omar al-Shishani standing next to the group's spokesman among a group of fighters as they declare the elimination of the border between Iraq and Syria. Al-Shishani, one of hundreds of Chechens who have been among the toughest jihadi fighters in Syria, has emerged as the face of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, appearing frequently in its online videos — in contrast to the group's Iraqi leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who remains deep in hiding and has hardly ever been photographed. (AP Photo/militant social media account via AP video)
This undated image posted by the Raqqa Media Center, a Syrian opposition group, on Monday, June 30, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a parade in Raqqa, Syria. Militants from an al-Qaida splinter group held a military parade in their stronghold in northeastern Syria, displaying U.S.-made Humvees, heavy machine guns, and missiles captured from the Iraqi army for the first time since taking over large parts of the Iraq-Syria border. (AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center)
This undated image posted by the Raqqa Media Center, a Syrian opposition group, on Monday, June 30, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a parade in Raqqa, Syria. Militants from an al-Qaida splinter group held a military parade in their stronghold in northeastern Syria, displaying U.S.-made Humvees, heavy machine guns, and missiles captured from the Iraqi army for the first time since taking over large parts of the Iraq-Syria border. (AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center)
This undated image posted by the Raqqa Media Center, a Syrian opposition group, on Monday, June. 30, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) sitting on their tank during a parade in Raqqa, Syria. Militants from an al-Qaida splinter group held a military parade in their stronghold in northeastern Syria, displaying U.S.-made Humvees, heavy machine guns, and missiles captured from the Iraqi army for the first time since taking over large parts of the Iraq-Syria border. (AP Photo/Raqqa Media Center)
FILE - This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Moderate Syrian rebels are buckling under the onslaught of the radical al-Qaida breakaway group that has swept over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Some rebels are giving up the fight, crippled by lack of weapons and frustrated with the power of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Other, more hard-line Syrian fighters are bending to the winds and joining the radicals. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
FILE - This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Moderate Syrian rebels are buckling under the onslaught of the radical al-Qaida breakaway group that has swept over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Some rebels are giving up the fight, crippled by lack of weapons and frustrated with the power of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Other, more hard-line Syrian fighters are bending to the winds and joining the radicals. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
FILE - This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf petro-powerhouses encouraged a flow of cash to Sunni rebels in Syria for years. But now they face a worrying blowback as an al-Qaida breakaway group that benefited from some of the funding storms across a wide swath of Iraq. Gulf nations fear its extremism could be a threat to them as well. But the tangle of rivalries in the region is complex: Saudi Arabia and its allies firmly oppose any U.S. military action to stop the Islamic State’s advance in Iraq because they don’t want to boost its Shiite-led prime minister or his ally, Iran. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)
Shiite tribal fighters raise their weapons and chant slogans against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the northwest Baghdad's Shula neighborhood, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq's Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country's north. (AP Photo/ Karim Kadim)
This Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014 photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Free Syrian Army fighter aiming his weapon during a battle with Islamic State militants in Aleppo, Syria. Members of the Islamic State group have been marching in the northern province of Aleppo capturing areas under the control of the mainstream Free Syrian Army. Islamic State fighters have overrun nearly a dozen towns and villages in Aleppo province last week crushing what little resistance they have encountered. (AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 18: Members of Syrian Islamic Front and Syrian opposition Mujahidin Brigade members guard to fight against the Islamic State (IS), formerly known Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ,in Mari village, Aleppo, Syria on August 18, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 18: Members of Syrian Islamic Front and Syrian opposition Mujahidin Brigade members guard to fight against the Islamic State (IS), formerly known Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ,in Mari village, Aleppo, Syria on August 18, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 18: Members of Syrian Islamic Front and Syrian opposition Mujahidin Brigade members guard to fight against the Islamic State (IS), formerly known Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ,in Mari village, Aleppo, Syria on August 18, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 18: Members of Syrian Islamic Front and Syrian opposition Mujahidin Brigade members guard to fight against the Islamic State (IS), formerly known Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ,in Mari village, Aleppo, Syria on August 18, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 18: Members of Syrian Islamic Front and Syrian opposition Mujahidin Brigade members guard to fight against the Islamic State (IS), formerly known Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ,in Mari village, Aleppo, Syria on August 18, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 18: Members of Syrian Islamic Front and Syrian opposition Mujahidin Brigade members guard to fight against the Islamic State (IS), formerly known Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ,in Mari village, Aleppo, Syria on August 18, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 18: Some of Syrians flee from Mari village due to the threat of ISIL in Aleppo, Syria on August 18, 2014. Members of Syrian Islamic Front and Syrian opposition Mujahidin Brigade members guard to fight against the Islamic State (IS), formerly known Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - AUGUST 18: Members of Syrian Islamic Front and Syrian opposition Mujahidin Brigade members guard to fight against the Islamic State (IS), formerly known Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ,in Mari village, Aleppo, Syria on August 18, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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By ZEINA KARAM

BEIRUT (AP) - As the U.S. military strikes the Islamic State group in Iraq, Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces have significantly stepped up their own campaign against militant strongholds in Syria, carrying out dozens of airstrikes against the group's headquarters in the past two days.

While the government in Damascus has long turned a blind eye to the Islamic State's expansion in Syria - in some cases even facilitating its offensive against mainstream rebels - the group's rapid march on towns and villages in northern and eastern Syria is now threatening to overturn recent gains by government forces.

While Islamic State militants have so far concentrated their attacks against the Western-backed fighters seeking to topple Assad, they have in the past month carried out a major onslaught against Syrian army facilities in northeastern Syria, capturing and slaughtering hundreds of Syrian soldiers and pro-government militiamen in the process.

On Monday, Islamic State fighters were closing in on the last government-held army base in the northeastern Raqqa province, the Tabqa air base, prompting at least 16 Syrian government airstrikes in the area in an attempt to halt their advance.

In the northern city of Aleppo, there is a sense of impending defeat among mainstream rebels as Islamic militants systematically routed them last week in towns and villages only a few kilometers (miles) north of the city. An Islamic State takeover of rebel-held parts of Aleppo also would be disastrous for Syrian government troops who have been gaining ground in the city in past months.

"I think they (Syrian government) are finally realizing that their Machiavellian strategy of working with the Islamic State group against the moderates did not work so well, and so they have started to fight it," said Andrew Tabler, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

But in hitting hard against the Islamic State group, Assad has another motive. His aerial bombardment of militant strongholds in Syria in a way mirrors that of the U.S. military's airstrikes against extremists across the border in Iraq.

Analysts say Assad's strikes aim at sending a message that he is on the same side as the Americans, reinforcing the Syrian government's longstanding claim that it is a partner in the fight against terrorism and a counterbalance to extremists. That comes after the U.S. itself nearly bombed Syria after it blamed Assad's forces for a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas near Damascus last August.

"Assad would surely love to regain international acceptance via a 'war on terror' and maybe that is his long-term plan, in so far as he has one," Syria analyst Aron Lund said.

Even while going against the Islamic State in Iraq, U.S. officials have shown little appetite for striking at the same militants in Syria.

Asked about Syrian government airstrikes targeting the militants, State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf rejected the notion that Washington and Damascus are "on the same page" in their fight against the Islamic State as a common enemy.

"While we may be looking at some of the same targets, I think the fact ... that the Assad regime has allowed ISIS to flourish and grow in the way it has is really one of the main reasons they have grown so strong," she said, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State.

Most of all, however, Assad can simply no longer afford to ignore the growing threat of the Islamic State now that it has started attacking his own forces.

Since July, following their blitz in Iraq and after they declared a self-styled caliphate straddling the Iraq-Syria border, Islamic State fighters have methodically gone after isolated government bases in northern and eastern Syria, killing and decapitating army commanders and pro-government militiamen.

The attacks started with a devastating onslaught on the al-Shaer gas field in Homs province in which more than 270 Syrian soldiers, security guards and workers were killed. Last month, the jihadis overran the sprawling Division 17 military base in Raqqa province, killing at least 85 soldiers. Two weeks later, Islamic State fighters seized the nearby Brigade 93 base after days of heavy fighting.

They now are closing in on Tabqa air base. Activists on Monday reported intense clashes between government troops and Islamic State fighters on the edge of the villages of Ajil and Khazna near Tabqa. The Raqqa Media Center, an activist collective, said the Islamic State captured four villages near the air base, including Ajil.

"They will stop at nothing. If things continue the same way it's only a matter of time before the Islamic State seizes Aleppo," said Abu Thabet, an Aleppo rebel commander. He said the jihadis were now looking to take the rebel stronghold of Marea, to be followed by the Bab al-Salama border crossing with Turkey, which would be a major prize and source of money.

Oubai Shahbandar, a Washington-based senior strategist for the Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition group, called Assad's airstrikes against the Islamic States superficial, saying the Western-backed rebels were the only force truly confronting the jihadis.

He also shrugged off any suggestion that Assad and the West share a common enemy in the Islamic State group.

"The choice for the West is clear," he said. "Assad turned Syria into a springboard for terror, while the opposition leads the anti-Islamic State resistance."

___

Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

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