French warplanes carried out air-strikes on the ISIS capital Raqqa, just two days after the "Islamic State" claimed the attacks in Paris that are now said to have killed 130 people. The raids, involving 10 planes launched from Jordan and United Arab Emirates, struck a "command center," a "recruitment center," a "munitions depot" and a "training camp," according to the French Defense Ministry. There is no report of casualties, so far. (France24, Military.com) Alas, even "progressive" news sources like The Guardian are referring to Raqqa as an "ISIS stronghold"—which (in a rhetorical device we have noted before) implicitly legitimizes attacks on the civil populace. In fact, the civil resistance that is active throughout Syria even has a presence in Raqqa—activists there have been heroically documenting ISIS crimes and even protesting jihadist rule. They even have a website, maintained by their friends abroad, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. The already precarious position of these courageous activists cannot have improved since Raqqa has come under bombardment by both the US and Bashar Assad's warplanes—and now those of François Hollande.
The French air-strikes may be counter-productive, merely providing ISIS with helpful propaganda assistance. Raqqa is a city where people live, and accepting civilian casualties among a populace already suffering under ISIS rule is adopting the same moral standards as ISIS—objectifying the victims.
We must also draw a distinction between unilateral air-strikes on a populated city, and air-strikes in support of indigenous forces on the ground—such as those requested by the Kurdish forces in support of their offensives against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq. Bombing battle-field positions can also result in civilian casualties of course, but it isn't the same as bombing a city—and the coordination with indigenous anti-ISIS forces makes a critical difference. Nothing indicates France is doing this in its new air-strikes.
As the French bombed Raqqa city, the US also carried out air-strikes in the countryside around Raqqa governorate, seemingly in coordination with the French. Meanwhile Russia bombed Hama—held by anti-ISIS rebel factions. These Russian air-strikes were assuredly not in support of indigenous forces on the ground but, on the contrary, against them. (SOHR)
Also that same day, a US air-strike on the Libyan city of Derna killed the ISIS leader in that country, Abu Nabil al-Anbari, according to the Pentagon. Some sources on the ground denied that the Iraqi-born Nabil had been killed in the raid. (Defense One; Libya Herald)
The use of Western air power against ISIS may now be set escalate dramatically—in the already very crowded skies of Syria, and elsewhere across the Greater Middle East. It will be up to activists in the US, France and other Western powers to find an intelligent response informed by solidarity with indigenous secular-democratic forces on the ground.