Russia unleashes first wave of airstrikes in Syria
A U.S. official said the Russian sorties so far did not appear to be targeting ISIS-held territory
Russian warplanes have conducted their first air strikes in Syria, Russia’s defense ministry said adding that the jets targeted Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, according to AFP.
Russian fighter jets carried out 20 flights in Syria, striking “eight Islamic State (ISIS) targets” including a command post held by the militant group, the Russian defense ministry said.
“The targets, notably a command center of the terrorists, were completely destroyed,” the ministry said in a statement.
Defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, quoted by Russian news agencies, added: “All the strikes took place following information provided by the Syrian government.”
The ministry also published a video of the air strikes which appeared to show three targets being hit. It said “munitions and weapons depots and military equipment” were also destroyed in Wednesday’s raids.
Russian jets ‘did not strike ISIS’
But the United States was quick to contradict Moscow’s claims of hitting ISIS targets.
“It does appear (the strikes) were in areas where there were probably not ISIL forces,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.
One airstrike carried out in the central province of Homs killed 36 people, all of them civilians, on Wednesday, the head of Syria's main opposition group told AFP.
“The Russians struck northern Homs today and killed 36 innocent people... who fought against extremism,” said Khaled Khoja, head of the National Coalition, in an interview.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Free Syrian Army, a foreign-backed opposition group, said the airstrikes wounded eight of its fighters.
“The northern countryside of Hama has no presence of ISIS at all and is under the control of the Free Syrian Army,” Major Jamil al-Saleh, who defected from the Syrian army in 2012, told Reuters via telephone.
Areas of the Syrian province of Homs struck in Russian air strikes on Wednesday are controlled by an array of rebel groups including several operating under the banner of the “Free Syrian Army," activists, locals and rebels said.
None of the sources named ISIS as one of the groups operating in the areas hit on Wednesday.
Additionally, a French diplomatic source told Reuters that the Russian strikes appear to target Syrian opposition, not ISIS.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow must act preemptively to destroy militants in Syria before they present a threat closer to home.
“The only correct way to fight international terrorism.... is to act preemptively, to battle and destroy fighters and terrorists on the territories they have already seized, not to wait for them to come to us,” Putin said in televised comments
Russia cautioned the United States to clear Syrian airspace ahead of the strikes, the U.S. official said, adding, however, that the U.S.-led coalition was "continuing to fly missions in Syria."
Earlier on Wednesday, the upper house of the Russian parliament had given Putin approval to use the country’s air force in Syria, according to state media.
“The Federation Council unanimously supported the President’s request - 162 votes in favor of granting permission," Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergey Ivanov said, according to ITAR-Tass.
The vote came after a request by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for military assistance in fighting ISIS, Ivanov said.
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