Russia carried out new airstrikes inside Syria on Thursday, the country’s Defense Ministry
said in a statement, a day after it changed the calculus of Mideast politics by entering the Syrian
civil war on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Russian Aerospace Forces engaged another four #ISIS facilities in #Syria this night,” the Russian Ministry of Defense announced on Twitter along
with gun camera video showing large explosions.
The strikes were carried out by eight Russian SU-24 and SU-25 jets, which claimed to hit ISIS
“terrorist staff” and an ammunition dump near Idlib and another headquarters in Hama.
But 24 hours into the military campaign, Russia’s aims started to come into clearer focus — that it is
targeting those who oppose al-Assad, including more moderate factions that are supported by the
United States and others in the west.
As much as Russia is working against terrorist groups, it appears to be intent on supporting the
A Syrian official stated as much on Thursday.
Russians are fighting alongside the Syrians, to destroy not just ISIS but all of the other rebel groups in Syria, the Syrian Ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad said on Thursday.
Haddad said all of the rebel groups, including ISIS, have a common goal: “to spread terror.”
He said that the impact of the Russian airstrikes over the past few days has been more effective than all of the coalition airstrikes so far
combined and that the Syrian army and the Russian army are working side by side, sharing intelligence and data and working very closely
The U.S. and Russian military will hold a secure video teleconference call today.
The U.S. will be represented by Elissa Slotkin, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, and Vice Adm. Frank Craig Pandolfe, director of strategic
plans and policy on the Joint Staff, according to the Pentagon.
Russian officials had said they were attacking ISIS, perhaps the most brutal terrorist group to emerge in decades.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was careful on Thursday to indicate that the
targets in Syria were not limited to that group.
“At the request of the Syrian government, we’re helping them to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups,” Lavrov said.
U.S. officials questioned whether ISIS is active in the areas hit by the Russian strikes, which on Wednesday were around the city of Homs, in western Syria near the border with Lebanon.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday that the Russian attacks, which the Kremlin said were meant to target terrorists, didn’t appear to hit targets under the control of ISIS, which operates in the north and east of the country.
And the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, also cast doubt on Russia’s account.
“Local Syrian sources claim the airstrikes exclusively targeted rebel positions, including the headquarters of Free Syrian Army-affiliated, Western-backed TOW anti-tank missile recipient
al-Izza,” the think tank reported on its website.
Russia’s military officials said they were taking care to avoid killing civilians.
“ISIS targets being assigned only outside inhabited areas and on confirmed reconnaissance data,” the Russian Defense Ministry said on Twitter.
The Iraqi Prime Minister welcomed Russia’s involvement.
“Well, of course it is beneficial,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in an interview with PBS.
“Don’t forget, Iraq was attacked from across the Syrian border into Iraq by Da’esh, by ISIL. And that
cost us a lot of human costs in terms of people killed, people being kidnapped, people being enslaved, women, children.”
For that reason, al-Abadi said, Iraq appreciated anyone willing to join the fight.
“Our message to the Russians — I met with Putin — please join this fight against Da’esh,” he said,
using another name for ISIS. “Da’esh is a dangerous terrorist organization, not only against
Iraq, against Syria, against the whole region, against the whole world. It is time that we all join
the same forces to fight Da’esh.”
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters on Thursday morning that it was too
early to evaluate the country’s military operation in Syria, according to the state-run news agency ITAR-Tass.
The spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the operation was temporary and would continue only as long as
the Syrian army was on the offensive.
“It’s important to understand that this operation is to support the Syrian army in the fight with ISIS and other extremist groups,” he said. “There’s a list of these groups, they all are known. Of course all
targets are located in coordination with the Syrian army.”
Peskov declined comment on reports that Saudi Arabia had asked Russia to end its operation in Syria.
“I saw these media reports, and I even looked for those statements of the representative of Saudi Arabia myself,” he said. “I didn’t find them, so I can’t answer your question.”
The White House downplayed the dangers of the Russian move.
“I think the Russians have made clear that they’re not interested in provoking a conflict,” White House
Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “Their actions thus far indicate that that’s what they believe.”
And unlike Carter, who described the Russian means of informing the United States of its airstrikes launch as “unprofessional,” Earnest
shrugged off any breach in procedure, saying the level of “upset and surprise” at the White House over Russia’s moves was “quite low” given Moscow’s consistent support for al-Assad.
Officials at the White House said they were waiting to see how Russia’s moves pan out in the coming days and were confident that talks between military
officials from the two countries would help avoid midair conflicts — even as some military analysts
questioned the effectiveness of those potential talks.