The French Ministry of Defense announced a “massive” bombardment of the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, a day after the militant group claimed coordinated terrorist attacks that killed at least 132 people in Paris. (Armée Française)

French warplanes launched a ferocious retaliatory assault late Sunday on targets in Raqqa, Syria — the Islamic State’s de facto capital — after coordination with U.S. defense officials who helped with the targeting.

The French Defense Ministry said that 10 aircraft dropped 20 bombs on facilities used by the militant group, which has claimed responsibility for Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris, striking a command center, a militant-training facility and an arms depot.

Opposition activists reached in Raqqa said they counted at least 30 bombs, which they said had hit, among other things, a soccer stadium, a museum and medical facilities. They said the strikes had knocked out electricity in the city of about 200,000 people.

The French statement said the operation, launched from bases in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, was conducted in coordination with U.S. forces, which have compiled an extensive target list in Raqqa. American officials, speaking at the Group of 20 summit here that President Obama is attending, said the French operation was discussed between the two militaries, as well as in telephone calls Saturday and Sunday between Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and his French counterpart.

U.S. planes have repeatedly struck in and around Raqqa, in north-central Syria, in recent months.

In Iraq on Sunday, Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari said Iraqi intelligence had obtained information before the Paris attacks that the Islamic State was planning an imminent terrorist strike overseas that may have been aimed “in particular” at France, the United States and Iran.

“We notified these countries and warned them,” Jafari said in a statement, which did not include specifics of when the Iraqis acquired the information. U.S. intelligence officials did not confirm the report.

Administration officials said the United States would not alter its strategy against the Islamic State in response to the Paris attacks, despite evidence that the terrorist group was expanding its ability to hit Western targets. In recent weeks, Obama has approved the escalation of airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and has authorized the deployment of 50 Special Operations troops to assist Syrian Kurdish and Arab forces pushing toward Raqqa.

Officials said that, in response to the attacks in Paris, the administration was seeking renewed global commitment to that intensified military action, and to a negotiated settlement of Syria’s civil war.

France’s retaliation came as Obama held talks with allied leaders and with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at the summit being held in this Turkish Mediterranean resort city.

Obama vowed again on Sunday to help France hunt down the perpetrators of the attacks. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama agreed with French President François Hollande that the rampage, which killed at least 132 and wounded more than 350, was an “act of war.” But he and others disputed suggestions from Republicans that Obama, who said in an interview last week that the U.S.-led coalition had contained the Islamic State, has consistently underestimated the adversary.


The president was referring to recent setbacks for the militant group on the battlefield in Iraq, Rhodes told reporters. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, a derogatory term in Arabic, has long harbored ambitions to sow bloodshed farther from its home base in Syria, he said, emphasizing that Obama has been realistic that the fight would be long and difficult.

“It’s the manifestation of what has been the ambition of ISIL for some time now — to conduct attacks beyond Iraq and Syria,” Rhodes said. “The president indicated when he launched the counter-ISIL strike campaign that he knew ISIL had those ambitions, which is why we have always focused on the threat of foreign fighters.”

The highly coordinated assaults on several locations in Paris on Friday evening have shaken the gathering of global leaders here. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, which intelligence officials said were carried out by three teams of terrorists affiliated with the extremist group.

The attacks prompted Hollande to declare that France would lead a “merciless” fight against the Islamic State, a move that could increase pressure on the Obama administration to take stronger actions to ensure that the Islamic State cannot attack the United States directly.

A 2016 campaign issue

GOP leaders, including some presidential candidates, have faulted Obama’s strategy as too limited to contain the Islamic State. The Paris attacks, along with the recent bombing of a Russian commercial plane claimed by the group, have thrust the administration’s approach in the Middle East into the 2016 campaign for the White House.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, who served as secretary of state in Obama’s first term, has struggled to articulate how she would deal with the threats. Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the United States “should declare war and harness all of the power the U.S. can bring to bear.”

After a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the summit host, Obama said that the attacks in Paris, and last month in Ankara, were attacks “on the civilized world,” and that the United States would “stand in solidarity” with the victims in “hunting down the perpetrators of this crime and bringing them to justice.”

Rhodes emphasized that the attacks did not change the White House’s reluctance to establish a massive ground force of U.S. troops in the region, saying the administration remains confident that it can push back the Islamic State by relying on local forces it is training and advising in Iraq and Syria, along with punishing airstrikes.

“The further introduction of U.S. troops to fully re-engage in ground combat in the Middle East is not the way to deal with this challenge,” Rhodes said.

Pressing for January talks

In Vienna on Saturday, diplomats from the region and from Europe, the United States and Russia agreed to press the various factions they back in Syria’s civil war to come together no later than Jan. 1 to begin talks on forming a transitional government.

Once that process starts, participants agreed, they will support a U.N.-monitored cease-fire between forces of President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, and a wide array of rebel groups variously backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others.

The administration has said that settling the ongoing civil war would allow global competitors to focus on defeating the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq.

The Paris attacks, Rhodes said, “can serve to create a greater sense of urgency in the international community behind supporting various elements of the counter-ISIL campaign and support for a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian conflict.”

Obama met with Putin on the sidelines of the summit. White House officials said that they spoke for 35 minutes and that the discussion “centered around ongoing efforts to resolve the conflict in Syria, an imperative made all the more urgent by the horrifying terrorist attacks in Paris,” and on the “diplomatic progress” achieved in Vienna. While the United States has insisted that Assad must relinquish power, Russia, Assad’s main backer, has bombed rebel forces in a bid to help him remain in control.

Obama and Putin were joined in their meeting, held in the lounge area of a hotel conference center, by U.S. national security adviser Susan E. Rice and a man who appeared to be an interpreter. A closed-circuit video feed showed them sitting around a coffee table, with Obama leaning forward in his chair and talking intently with Putin, who was also leaning in, as other world leaders milled about.

The president also met here with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

In Brussels, NATO dropped the flags of its 28 member nations to half-staff to honor the French dead. NATO officials said that France so far has declined to invoke the alliance’s Article 5, which would oblige all members to join its fight against the militants.

The only time Article 5 has ever been invoked — at the request of the United States — was after the September 2001 al-Qaeda attacks.

“We support the French authorities in their determination to deal with the terrorist threat,” a NATO official said Sunday, “and a number of allies are already working with France on their ongoing operations and investigations in the wake of the attacks.”

Loveday Morris in Dahuk, Iraq, and Hugh Naylor in Beirut contributed to this report.