Updated on October 2 at 5 p.m. ET
Russia’s Defense Ministry says its air force carried out more strikes on targets in Syria, two days after the country entered the conflict on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad and raised tensions with the U.S.
Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry, said at a news conference in Moscow on Friday that Russian warplanes hit seven targets, including a training camp near Raqqa, as well as targets in Aleppo province, Idlib province, and Hama province.
At least one of those areas, Raqqa, is known to be an area with a significant Islamic State presence. The Moscow Times noted that most of the Russian strikes targeted other groups opposed to Assad.
The Syrian civil war has brought together a disparate collection of rebel groups united in their effort to oust Assad. They range in affiliation from secular and left wing, to moderate and hard-line Islamist. But many of these groups have had limited success against Assad’s forces. The group that had made significant gains is the Islamic State. The U.S. and its allies are also carrying out airstrikes in Syria, targeting the Islamic State. Russia’s strikes ostensibly are against ISIS, but they have also targeted Western-backed groups opposed to Assad.
Russia’s actions might bolster Assad, but they have angered the U.S.-backed coalition that wants him gone.
President Obama, at a news conference on Friday, said Russia’s action were a sign of weakness and would lead it into a “quagmire.” And, he noted, Assad was still in power only because of support from Russia and Iran.
“They are being more overt about supporting Assad,” he said of the Russian role there.
Obama said that during their meeting at the U.N. last week, he had told Russian President Vladimir Putin that “Assad has to transition” from power. The president added that the two countries had a “common interest in destroying ISIL,” but Russia “doesn’t distinguish between ISIL and moderate groups.”
And, Obama said, little had changed after Putin’s actions in Syria.
“Iran and Assad make up their coalition,” he said. “The rest of the world makes up ours.”
In a joint statement Thursday, the governments of France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the U.K., and the U.S., expressed their “deep concern” over the Russian actions, alleging that the strikes “led to civilian casualties and did not target Da’esh.”
Da’esh is another name for the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL.
Here’s more from the letter:
These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization.
We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting ISIL.
Russia denies there are civilian casualties, calling the allegations “complete nonsense.”
Russia’s intervention in Syria was likely to be near the top of the agenda of Putin’s meeting in Paris on Friday with the leaders of France, Germany, and Ukraine over Moscow’s role in the Ukrainian crisis.
Russia’s relationship with Syria was forged during the Soviet era when Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, ruled the country. Russia’s sole Mediterranean naval base for its Black Sea fleet is located in Tartus, the Syrian port.
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