Russia Bombing Won't Change US Role in Syria

The United States said it would continue to lead coalition airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, ignoring Russia's request for U.S. aircraft to avoid Syrian airspace as Russia began conducting bombing attacks there Wednesday in support of the Syrian government.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said a Russian general in Baghdad had given U.S. Embassy personnel short notice earlier in the morning of the planned strikes in Syria against Islamic State targets. 
"The U.S.-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, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Tuesday had directed the Pentagon staff to communicate with Russia about coalition activity in Syria, to avoid any mistaken encounter between coalition and Russian forces there, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon and Western officials question whether the Russian airstrikes, spotted near the western Syrian city of Homs, are aimed at the Islamic State.

An unnamed Pentagon source told VOA that the extremist group is concentrated in the northern cities of Ruqqa and Aleppo and the eastern city of Deir al-Zour. In contrast, many fighters and other opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime are in Homs.
"By deduction, we can tell the strikes are not anti-ISIL," the source said.
Likewise, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in New York that, "as we understand, these weren’t zones that were controlled" by the militants. He called for the targets of the Russian raids to be verified.
The Pentagon source also said U.S. pilots were not in danger, because they were flying in other airspace, over Islamic State hotbeds. The coalition struck at Aleppo on Wednesday.

Russia justifies decision
A spokesman for Russia's defense ministry said the air operations would target Islamic State military equipment, communications and vehicles, along with warehouses of weapons, ammunition and fuel.
General Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman, confirmed Wednesday's airstrikes just hours after Russia's upper house of parliament approved a request by President Vladimir Putin to deploy military forces to support Assad's government.
Putin, meeting with his cabinet Wednesday to discuss Russia's economic recession, said the bombing campaign began at Assad's request and respected international law.
He outlined conditions for his country's involvement.
"First of all, we will support Syrian army only in its legitimate fight, specifically against terrorist groups," Putin said. "Secondly, the support will be from the air without participation in ground operations. And third, such support will be limited in time, as long as Syrian army is on offensive."

The French news agency AFP quoted a Syrian security force as saying that Russian and Syrian warplanes conducted "numerous strikes" against "terrorist positions" in Syria's Homs, Hama and Latakia provinces. 
Russia has been building up its forces in Syria, with bombers, jets and troops arriving in the country's northwest in recent weeks, Pentagon officials said.
France, too, this week began bombing Islamic State targets in Syria. But it firmly supports replacing Assad, whose regime has been accused of dropping barrel bombs and using poison gas on its own people. 
"It is our responsibility to act against the impunity of these assassins, Fabius said in a statement.
Prosecutors in Paris have launched a preliminary investigation into "crimes against humanity," AFP reported Wednesday.
U.S. objections
On Monday, Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama had met in New York, during a United Nations General Assembly, to seek closer coordination of military activities in Syria.
That day, Putin addressed Russia's expanding role in Syria, telling the assembly that Assad's forces are "valiantly fighting terrorism face to face" and that refusing to cooperate with them is "a huge mistake." He said Assad should remain in power to fight terrorism. And he criticized the West for arming "moderate" rebels in Syria, who, he said, joined forces with the Islamic State group.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking Wednesday to the U.N. Security Council, called for a united front.
"If Russia's recent actions, and those now ongoing, reflect a genuine commitment to defeat that organization, then we are prepared to welcome those efforts and to find a way to de-conflict our operations and thereby multiply the military pressure on ISIL and affiliated groups," he said, suggesting talks could begin as early as this week.
But, Kerry added, "We must not and will not be confused in our fight against ISIL with support for Assad. ISIL itself cannot be defeated as long as Bashar al-Assad remains president of Syria."


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