NEW DELHI: Following through on United States President Barack Obama’s declaration of an expanded fight against the Islamic State, US fighter jets -- joined by allies including four Arab nations -- pounded targets in Syria overnight on Tuesday.

Washington has reportedly not seeked the approval of the Syrian government, justifying the action under article 51 of the UN Charter and claiming that the attack was necessary to protect civilians and secure Iraq’s borders. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights placed the death toll from Tuesday’s attack at 120, including at least eight civilians.

With this week’s attack on Syria, the US has bombed six countries in the six years that Barack Obama, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, has been US President. The other five countries that the US has bombed in the last six years are Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, and Somalia.

The US however, has not officially declared war since 1942, so technically, none of the above military offenses count as war. Further, if the definition of military engagement is broadened to include special operation forces, the US is militarily involved in 134 countries, either in combat, special missions or advising and training foreign forces.

In Syria, the US’ has been involved in funding, advising and training not Syrian government forces, but rebel militias opposed to President Bashar al Assad. In fact, the advance of anti-government forces in Syria -- which include the Islamic State, who are the target of these strikes -- was made possible in turn, by the US and allies assistance to Sunni rebels, who share with the US the objective to topple Alawite leader Assad. The US greenlighted Turkish and Saudi aid to anti-Assad rebels, supplied these groups with material and financial assistance, and used the CIA to train rebels at a secret base in Jordan.

This not to suggest that the rebels in Syria present a homogenous group, as there is considerable infighting, with the IS militants facing setbacks at the hands of the Islamic Front and the Free Syrian Army, for instance. However, affiliations change rapidly, and the IS group -- when it was known as Al Qaeda in Iraq -- had expressed solidarity with the rebels in Syria, following which the US immediately increased aid to anti-Assad forces. The aid began as non-lethal aid, but following a June 2013 White House statement that said there was reason to believe that Assad had been using chemical weapons against rebels, the US decided to extend lethal aid to anti-Assad militias. The total aid given by the US to rebels in Syria, according to USAID figures, amounts to over $1 billion.

Earlier this month, the United States senate voted 78-22 in favour of a resolution that calls for continuing the provision to arm and train Syrian rebels.

This approval, and the strikes that have followed, come after Obama’s speech on the eve of September 11, that outlined a four step strategy to combat IS, focusing on air strikes, support to on-the-ground partner forces, counter terrorism operations and humanitarian aid. In that speech, Obama clearly stated that in addition to Iraq, where the US has the support of the government to conduct air strikes against IS militants, the strategy would also apply to Syria. “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq,” Obama had said.

The Syrian government immediately responded with a warning that any foreign intervention in the country will amount to a an act of aggression unless it is approved by Damascus. Ali Haidar, minister of national reconciliation affairs, speaking to reporters in the Syrian capital, said, “Any action of any type without the approval of Syrian government is an aggression against Syria. There must be cooperation with Syria and coordination with Syria and there must be a Syrian approval of any action whether it is military or not."

It is also worth noting that the US has threatened the Assad regime with military action on many occasions in the past, but stopped short of following through. In stating that the goal of the strikes is to target IS militants, the Obama administration has finally found the legal justification for a long-deliberated action.