- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2018

American warplanes are once again carrying out airstrikes against remaining pockets of Islamic State fighters in eastern Syria, resuming full-scale operations against the terror group after a brief lull in that mission.

Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters aboard the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group began bombarding Islamic State positions Thursday, with strikes continuing apace through Tuesday.

The strike group joined the Navy’s Sixth Fleet — which is responsible for U.S. maritime operations in Europe and North Africa — in late April as part of the Pentagon’s seemingly final push to eradicate the Islamic State from its Syrian enclaves.

The last major Navy strike group to be sent to the Mediterranean to battle the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, was the USS George H.W. Bush, which steamed into the region in July.

“We commenced combat operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve,” Navy Capt. Nicholas Dienna, the USS Truman’s commanding officer, told Reuters Tuesday regarding the sea service’s ongoing operations in the eastern Mediterranean.

“That operation demonstrates … our resolve to our partners and allies in the region and our continuing fight to eliminate ISIS and their impact to the region,” he added.

The resumption of U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria comes as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, the American-backed coalition of Kurdish and Arab paramilitaries, kicked off their ground campaign targeting the Islamic State redoubts eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border.

The operation, dubbed “Al-Jazeera Storm,” is the first major anti-Islamic State operation by the SDF and the American-led coalition since the fall of Raqqa — the terror group’s de facto Syrian capital and the heart of its so-called caliphate — in 2017.

After liberating Raqqa, the number and frequency of U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State dropped significantly. Sorties by American warplanes against the Taliban and other extremist groups in Afghanistan briefly eclipsed those in Iraq and Syria, in the weeks and months after Raqqa was captured by U.S.-backed forces.

It remains unclear how long the new SDF offensive may last, or how long the Truman strike group will remain in the Mediterranean. Its last deployment to the region, in support of the Islamic State fight, was an extended eight-month cruise.

“We’ll be here as long as they need us and we’ll move on when they decide we need to go do something else,” Rear Adm. Gene Black, Truman strike group’s commander, told Reuters.

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