Russia Syria: Russia Strikes Syria

Published: September 30, 2015

Russia Syria: Russia Strikes Syria, In a dramatic escalation of the war in Syria, Russia has launched a series of airstrikes that it said were aimed at Islamic State terrorists but which mainly appeared to hit less extreme groups fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The Russian gambit, the first time the country has launched major military action outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since the end of the Cold War, came two days after the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, spoke to the UN and called for an international coalition against terrorism to fight Isis.

Multiple reports from the ground, however, suggested the Russian airstrikes on Wednesday had targeted groups linked to the Free Syrian Army, the main opposition to Assad. A resident of Talbiseh in Homs said two airstrikes primarily hit residential areas of the town, killing about 20 people.

Speaking outside Moscow on Wednesday, Putin said Russia would not “plunge headfirst” into the conflict, but would provide temporary air support for a Syrian army offensive.

Russia’s defence ministry confirmed airstrikes had taken place, claiming the targets were military and communication equipment “belonging to the terrorists of Isis”.

At the Pentagon, US officials said the strikes did not appear to be targeting areas held by Isis forces, and signalled deep dissatisfaction with Russia, piercing the veneer of cooperation that the US president, Barack Obama, and Putin sought to establish at the United Nations this week.

“We must not and will not be confused in our fight against Isil with support for Assad,” said the US secretary of state, John Kerry.

A day after the Pentagon announced that the US defence chief, Ashton Carter, was establishing a communications channel with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoygu, to “deconflict” any overlapping airstrikes, Russian officials told US diplomats in Baghdad that the Americans should avoid Syrian airspace during a Russian operation of uncertain duration. US officials rejected the demand.

A US defence official said: “While we would welcome a constructive role by Russia in this effort [to deconflict strikes], today’s demarche hardly seems indicative of that sort of role and will in no way alter our operations.” He added that the strikes underscored the need for “meaningful deconfliction discussions very soon”.

David Cameron, currently in Jamaica, said his evaluation of Russia’s move would depend on the targets. “I have a clear view that if this is a part of international action against Isil, that appalling terrorist death cult outfit, then that is all to the good,” said the British prime minister. “If, on the other hand, this is action against the Free Syrian Army in support of Assad the dictator, then obviously that is a retrograde step but let us see exactly what has happened.”

Syrian rebels and opposition media outlets claimed that Russian aircraft carried out strikes in the central provinces of Homs and Hama that allegedly killed at least 24 people.

Activists in Hama said Russian fighter jets targeted the town of Lataminah, north of the city. The Homs media centre, a pro-opposition media outlet, identified 22 individuals killed in what was described as Russian strikes in the town of Talbiseh, in the north of the province. It was not possible to immediately verify these claims.

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