United States defends Syria airstrikes in letter to UN chief

Filed on September 25, 2014
United States defends Syria airstrikes in letter to UN chief

US Ambassador to the UN says Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront ISIS safe havens effectively.

The United States told the United Nations on Tuesday it led airstrikes against ISIS militants in Syria because President Bashar Al Assad’s government had failed to wipe out safe havens used by the group to launch attacks on Iraq.

In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power wrote: “The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe havens effectively itself.”

The strikes were needed to eliminate a threat to Iraq, the United States and its allies, she wrote, citing Article 51 of the UN Charter, which covers an individual or collective right to self-defence against armed attack.

“States must be able to defend themselves ... when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks,” Power wrote in the letter obtained by Reuters.

“Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing threat to Iraq,” she wrote, adding that action was taken also against Al Qaeda elements in Syria known as Khorasan “to address terrorist threats that they pose to the United States and our partners and allies.”

Ban circulated the letter to the UN Security Council, diplomats said. Under Article 51, the 15-member body must immediately be informed of any action that states take in self-defence against armed attack.

Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told Reuters on Tuesday that Power informed him in person of imminent US and Arab airstrikes against ISIS targets on Syrian territory on Monday hours beforehand.

Ja’afari said: “We’re in close coordination with Iraq.” The US mission confirmed that Power had informed Ja’afari.

Power wrote in her letter to Ban on Tuesday that the Iraqi government asked the United States “to lead international efforts to strike ISIS sites and military strongholds in Syria in order to end the continuing attacks on Iraq.”

Ban told reporters on Tuesday that ISIS militants pose a serious threat to international peace and security, echoing language that the UN Security Council has used in the past to greenlight military interventions.

“I’m aware that today’s strikes were not carried out at the direct request of the Syrian government but I note that the government was informed beforehand,” he said.

“I also note that the strikes took place in areas no longer under the effective control of that government,” he added. “It is undeniable and the subject of broad international consensus that these extremist groups pose an immediate threat to international peace and security.”

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