Targets of Russian airstrikes in Syria called into question

Mahmoud Taha, AFP | A damaged buildings and a minaret in the central Syrian town of Talbisseh in the Homs province September 30, 2015

Russia carried out its first airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, claiming it had struck militants of the Islamic State (IS) group. However, French and US officials quickly raised questions about the military operation.


The Russian defence ministry said Wednesday evening that it had struck eight IS targets in Syria.

The strikes were launched a few hours before Moscow presented a proposal at the UN General Assembly to coordinate "all forces standing up against Islamic State and other terrorist structures."

France promptly demanded that Russia confirm that its airstrikes on Wednesday targeted IS fighters before accepting the enlarged coalition put forward by President Vladimir Putin.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius expressed concern that Russian bombs may have been aimed at other rebels fighting the Syrian regime.

"Of course, we must fight together as hard as we can," Fabius told reporters in New York.

There are "signs that the Russian strikes did not target Daesh," he added using the Islamic State group's Arabic acronym. Fabius added that “verification is underway"

Diplomatic tension

Moscow opposes Paris’s proposal for a transition of power under which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would step down.

Russia has also reportedly been steadily dispatching more and more military aircraft to a base in Latakia, regarded as an Assad stronghold, after the Syrian government suffered a series of battlefield defeats in the brutal civil war.

Meanwhile, the White House said it was too soon to say what Russian warplanes were targeting in Syria, or what may have actually been hit.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said it was "too early for me to say what target they were aiming at and what targets were hit."

Earlier, a US defence official said the strikes had targeted opposition forces, and not IS jihadists.

Airstrikes to continue

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday told the UN Security Council that the United States would continue its own air operations and that it would welcome Russian airstrikes if they were genuinely aimed at the militant group or others affiliated with al Qaeda.

Kerry said Washington would be troubled if Moscow went after targets where those groups were not present, saying this would raise questions about whether Moscow's main aim was in fact to prop up Assad.

"If Russia's recent actions, and those now ongoing, reflect a genuine commitment to defeat [the IS] organisation, then we are prepared to welcome those efforts,” Kerry said.


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