The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that Russian combat jets have launched “pinpointed” airstrikes on positions of Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Syria.
“In accordance with the decision by Supreme Commander of Russian Armed Forces Vladimir Putin, aircraft from the Russian Aerospace Force began today an operation which involves precision airstrikes on Islamic State land-based targets in Syria,” spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.
According to Sputnik, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has informed other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization that the Russian jets carry out strikes on ISIS military hardware, arms and fuel depots.
Russia launched the air strikes near the city of Homs, in its first engagement abroad since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Russia’s enhanced engagement in Syria serves as an odd complement to US plans to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. President Obama wants to defeat ISIS and remove the beleaguered President Bashar Assad from office, while President Putin wants to eliminate ISIS while keeping Assad’s regime intact—or as intact as possible.
A US official has told Reuters that the Russian air strikes do not appear to be targeting ISIS-held areas of Syria. Bebars al-Telawi, a media activist from the Syrian city of Homs, told the Telegraph’s Nabih Bulos in Beirut via Skype that the Russian planes “came from the coast, not from the eastern area or from the direction of Hama where there are regime bases…It was also a different type of plane than one we had seen in the past.”
“In the last seven days, the regime’s planes were attacking Palmyra and Qaryatayn, which are both held by [ISIS] and are in the eastern part of Homs [province]. Today, they struck the western side of Homs, and there is no [ISIS] there. This means that now everything is allowed; anyone against Bashar [al-Assad] will be a target.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 27 are dead, including five women and six children, from the strikes in the towns of al-Rastan and Talbisah as well as the village of al-Zafaraaneh. All are in the northern Homs countryside.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Russia’s launch of air strikes against rebel targets in Syria will not change the US-led coalition’s strategy in fighting ISIS. “The US-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL,” Kirby said.
Kirby said the US found out about the pending Russian attacks in Syria was when “a Russian official in Baghdad this morning informed US Embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying anti-ISIL missions today over Syria. He further requested that US aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during these missions.”