Following Wednesday’s approval by the Russian parliament, air strikes by Russia’s military began against targets in Syria. These strikes have drawn criticism from Western leaders, as the accusation has been put forth that Russia’s air strikes have targeted Free Syrian Army positions. Sources state the the Russian military and Syrian government forces are working closely together.
The Syrian city of Hama, near where Russian air strikes were conducted on Wednesday
On September 30th, Russian air strikes in Syria began, executed by forces based out of the Latakia province, where Russian air vehicles have been gathering for over a week. According to Russian officials, the targets hit so far have included an ammunition storage facility outside of Idlib, as well as an ISIS administrative center near the western city of Hama. This news comes shortly after a formal agreement was entered into by Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq to share intelligence and coordinate operations against the Islamic State. Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, stated in an interview that strikes will also be directed against targets associated with Jabhat al-Nusra, another terrorist group prominent in Syria. Similar air operations continued into a second day on Thursday.
Despite Russian claims that these strikes target only officially recognized terrorist groups, accusations have been made that several of the air operations have been directed against the Free Syrian Army, a United States supported group opposing the Syrian government. Several 0f the areas in which Russian air strikes have occurred are not generally recognized as being controlled by the Islamic State, and multiple rebel factions have reported being attacked by Russian air forces. While Russia has strongly supported the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, its government has denied using its air power to attack Assad’s enemies.
When asked about operations against the Free Syrian Army, Mr. Lavrov responded by insisting that the only targets of Russian operations in Syria were terrorist groups, and that the Russian government does not classify the FSA as such. United States Senator and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain, however, stated in an interview that he was absolutely convinced that the Wednesday strikes in Syria had targeted FSA positions in order to prop up the Assad government. Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad, when asked about the goal of Russian military intervention during an interview with CNN, stated that Russia was working closely with government forces to destroy all rebel factions in Syria.
In an earlier Thursday interview with Ilya Rogachev, Russia’s deputy foreign minister and Lavrov’s immediate subordinate, it was suggested that Russian air operations may also expand into Iraq. Rogachev stated that Moscow would consider the possibility of attacking Islamic State targets in Iraq if that country’s government asked for assistance in doing so. Iraq, much like Syria, has been dealing with a consistent ISIS insurgency. Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has been under the control of the Islamic State since last year.
By Effi Schweizer (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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