US hits al-Qaida militants in Syria for third time

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Syrian rebels, syrian airstrikes - updated 2/19/15
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US hits al-Qaida militants in Syria for third time
A rebel fighter stands on a tank near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
The U.S. will provide some moderate Syrian rebels with trucks equipped with machine guns and radios to call in U.S. airstrikes. WSJ's Julian Barnes reports.
Rebel fighters drive tanks near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
Rebel fighters drive a tank near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
A rebel fighter stands looking at a tank on a truck near the frontline in the village of Ratyan in the countryside north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on February 19, 2015. Fierce clashes are raging between rebel forces and government troops in the villages of Ratyan and Hardtaneen as regime forces cut the main rebel supply line into Aleppo. The Syrian regime is ready to suspend aerial bombardment of Aleppo to allow a humanitarian ceasefire, a UN envoy said, even as government troops sought to encircle embattled rebels. AFP PHOTO / ZEIN AL RIFAI (Photo credit should read ZEIN AL-RIFAI/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Syrians gathered to search for survivors amidst the debris of destroyed buildings following an airstrike with barrel bomb by Syrian Government's helicopters in the Shaar neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014. At least 16 casualties, including women and children, reported. (Photo by Mustafa Hafiz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A US-led coalition Rockwell B-1 Lancer flies above the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises from a burning building in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seen from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris and wrecked vehicles are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after an airstrike in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 06: Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo on November 06, 2014. (Photo by Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after an airstrike in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Smoke rises after an airstrike in the city of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, as it seens from the southeastern border village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on November 5, 2014. Islamic State jihadists subjected a group of teenagers from the Syrian battleground town of Kobane to a string of abuses, including torture, during six months in captivity, Human Rights Watch said on November4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - NOVEMBER 03: A photo taken in Suruc district of Sanliurfa, Turkey shows smoke rises from an explosion in the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following a US-led coalition airstrike hits an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets on November 3, 2014. (Photo by Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 20, 2014 file photo, thick smoke and flames from an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition rise in Kobani, Syria, as seen from a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border. For a force that has built its reputation on projecting an aura of momentum and invincibility, the prolonged stalemate in Kobani is a setback for Islamic State militants with potential implications in terms of recruitment and support. Nearly two months after it launched its lightning assault on the small Kurdish town, the group is bogged down with an increasingly entrenched and costly battle in which hundreds of its fighters have been killed and a good deal of its military apparatus destroyed. (AP Photo, Lefteris Pitarakis, File)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 30 : A photograph taken from Suruc district of Sanliurfa, Turkey, near Turkish-Syrian border crossing shows smoke rising from the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following the US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets on October 30, 2014. (Photo by Rauf Maltas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Smoke rises above the Syrian city of Kobani after an airstrike by the US led coalition, seen from a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, near the Turkey-Syria border Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
FILE - In this Oct. 28, 2014 file photo, smoke and flames rise from an Islamic State fighters' position in the town of Kobani during airstrikes by the US led coalition seen from the outskirts of Suruc, near the Turkey-Syria border. Ethnic Kurds are helping members of the Islamic State group in the battle for the key Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani, sharing their knowledge of the local terrain and language with the extremists, according to Iraqi and Kurdish officials. Still, most Kurds are moderate and secular-leaning Muslims. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)
In this Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett, right, participates in International exercise, involving British and U.S. mine-countermeasure vessels in the Persian Gulf. The guided-missile destroyer is deployed as part of operations targeting Islamic State group militants in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Eric Coffer)
ADDS TYPE OF AIRCRAFT - In this Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, a E-2C Hawkeye prepares to land on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft carrier and aircrafts are deployed as part of operations targeting Islamic State group militants in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, John Philip Wagner Jr.)
Children run on a hillside as smoke rises from an Islamic State fighters position in the town of Kobani during airstrikes by the US led coalition, seen from the outskirts of Suruc, near the Turkey-Syria border, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
ADDS TYPE OF AIRCRAFT - In this Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, an F-18 lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the Persian Gulf. The aircraft carrier and aircraft are deployed as part of operations targeting Islamic State group militants in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, John Philip Wagner Jr.)
FILE - In this file photo dated Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014, two bombs, seen on top right, fall on an Islamic State fighters' position in the town of Kobani during airstrikes by the US led coalition, seen from the outskirts of Suruc, near the Turkey-Syria border. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, FILE)
In this Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014 photo provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors pull alongside the guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett to practice ship boarding in the Persian Gulf. The guided-missile destroyer is deployed as part of operations targeting Islamic State group militants in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Eric Coffer)
A Turkish military vehicle drives on a hillside backdropped by destroyed buildings in the town of Kobani following airstrikes by the US led coalition, seen from the outskirts of Suruc, near the Turkey-Syria border, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
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BEIRUT (AP) -- U.S. aircraft fired missiles at al-Qaida militants in Syria for a third time as part of the international campaign against Islamic extremists, American officials and a Syrian activist said.

American defense officials said the strike took place Thursday and targeted the Khorasan group, which the U.S. says is a special cell within al-Qaida's Syrian branch - known as the Nusra Front - plotting attacks against Western interests. The officials did not provide any details, and spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Syrian activist Asaad Kanjo said the attack occurred near the town of Harem in Syria's northwestern Idlib province near the Turkish border. He said residents reported seeing a drone fire two missiles that struck a Nusra Front base, killing at least two people.

It was the third time the U.S. has bombed the Nusra Front since the American-led coalition began conducting airstrikes in Syria in September against the Islamic State group and other extremists. The U.S. military says the attacks that have hit the Nusra Front have only targeted the Khorasan group, and not hit the wider Nusra organization.

U.S. Airstrikes Hit Khorasan Group's Top Bomb-Maker

Inside Syria, however, activists and rebels dismiss the U.S. attempt to distinguish between the Khorasan group and Nusra, saying they are one entity. Many analysts also question the distinction.

The strikes against the Nusra Front have touched off a wave of criticism among many in Syria. While the group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, among the Syrian opposition it has a degree of support and respect because its fighters are on the front lines alongside other rebels battling President Bashar Assad's forces in Syria's 3 1/2-year civil war.

Many Syrians also say the strikes against Nusra are helping Assad by weakening one of his strongest opponents.

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