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U.S. Regional Partners Offer Vocal Support Of Syria Airstrikes


We've been reporting, today, on the series of airstrikes the U.S. and Arab countries conducted overnight in Syria. After weeks of attacks on the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, in Iraq these are the first U.S. air attacks on the group in Syria. And it marks a major expansion of the U.S. led war on ISIS - one that's bound to be controversial in the Middle East. We're joined by NPR's Deborah Amos, who's in southern Turkey near the Syrian border. And, Deborah, this is a part of Turkey that's crowded with Syrian rebels and activists. They've been fighting the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. What are they saying about these airstrikes?

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Well, Melissa, I stopped by a workshop, today, for activists and some people had actually come from Rocca the day before. Their families were still there so they were happy in some ways, worried in others. But I talked to a schoolteacher and here's what she said. She said it's three years too late, considering how much we've lost. That was a common response among Syrians. Many here also are watching Syrian TV. And they felt that the regime was claiming some sort of victory by making it seem they were part of this coalition when they actually are not. I want to play you a comment from Assaad Al Achi. He's soon to be named the head of the humanitarian arm of the Syrian opposition and he's talking about how many activists responded to the strikes today. Here's what he said.


ASSAAD AL ACHI: Right now, the only thing that they can see is that ISIL's being bombed and that Assad is claiming victory. That's the vision that they have right now. ISIL is just a symptom of the real terrorist, who is Bashar al-Assad.

AMOS: And you hear that comment here but he did tell me, tonight, that soon Syrians will see that there was a direct benefit of the strikes. ISIS has been pushed back from the Kurdish town in Syria called Kobani. We've seen in the last 48 hours more than 100,000 Syrian Kurds fleeing into Turkey because of the advance of ISIS. The strikes cut ISIS' supply lines, according to rebels, and that imminent fall of Kobani - that's been reversed.

BLOCK: Now, Deborah, we heard President Obama today list five Arab partners who took part in these airstrikes - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar. What's been the reaction from those countries today?

AMOS: Officially, all of them announced publicly that they took part in the strikes. Now, this is really unprecedented. It's the first time some of these Arab countries have taken their Air Force outside of the country. In some ways easy to coordinate because a lot of this is U.S. equipment that they've bought from the United States. It was striking to see the Saudi announcement. They said that they took part to defeat terrorism - as they call ISIS - but also to help the moderate Syrian opposition. So there was a political message within their announcement of taking part in these strikes.

BLOCK: And is there any way to gauge public support in these Arab countries for their governments taking part in this U.S.-led coalition?

AMOS: I had a conversation with a prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and he said so many Saudi's talk about ISIS all the time. They're really afraid of it. Some of them are talking - maybe they should leave the country. Maybe they should move into the countryside. It's a major topic in every Saudi home. And he's been telling me all along that the Saudi government will do what it takes; that they are very concerned about ISIS. They are threatened. The Jordanians feel the same way. They believe that they have ISIS cells inside the country. So these are Arab capitals who are concerned and their publics are two. That is why you saw such a public proclamation today. All of this comes ahead of President Obama, who will be speaking at the U.N. tomorrow. And it's the optics of advantage to have these Arab governments behind him.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Deborah Amos reporting from southern Turkey near the Syrian border. Deborah, thanks.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos
Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.