U.S.: Russia airstrikes appear to target non-IS areas
Moscow — Russia launched airstrikes Wednesday in Syria, sharply escalating Moscow’s role in the conflict but also raising questions about whether its intent is fighting Islamic State militants or protecting longtime ally, President Bashar Assad.
President Vladimir Putin called it a pre-emptive strike against the militants, and the Russian Defense Ministry said its warplanes targeted and destroyed eight positions belonging to extremists from the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL or ISIS. It did not give specific locations.
But French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers in Paris: “Curiously, they didn’t hit Islamic State. I will let you draw a certain number of conclusions yourselves.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter also said the Russians appeared to have targeted areas that did not include Islamic State militants and complained Moscow did not use formal channels to give advance notice of its airstrikes to Washington, which is conducting its own airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State group.
He said the Russians should not be supporting the Assad government.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was prepared to welcome Russian military action in Syria as long as it is directed against Islamic State and other al-Qaida affiliates, but would have “grave concerns” if it conducted strikes against other groups.
Kerry said military-to-military discussions to avoid any accidental conflicts could begin as early as Thursday.
The U.S. and Russia both agree on the need to fight the Islamic State but not about what to do with Assad. The Syrian civil war, which grew out of an uprising against Assad, has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011 and sent millions of refugees fleeing to other countries in the Middle East and Europe.
Russia’s first airstrikes in Syria came after Putin met Monday with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, where they discussed Moscow’s military buildup in the country. Obama had said the U.S. and Russia could work together on a political transition, but only if the result was Assad’s departure.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Russians’ new action “calls into question their strategy, because when President Putin and President Obama had the opportunity to meet at the U.N. earlier this week, much of their discussion was focused on the need for a political transition inside Syria.”
Putin, who is Assad’s most powerful backer, justified the airstrikes as a move to not only stabilize Syria, but also help stifle global terrorism.
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