Mohammed Khair/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(DAMASCUS, Syria) — Russia has launched at least 20 air strikes in northern Syria, its Defense Ministry said Thursday, marking Russia’s biggest Middle East intervention in decades.
While Russian officials say they bombed at least four ISIS targets including “headquarters and coordination centers in the mountains,” U.S. officials are concerned that is not the case and that Russia is targeting other militants, some of which could be U.S.-backed. The Russian military website also posted a video of the strikes.
“It does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces, and that is precisely one of the problems with this whole approach,” U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday, using the government’s acronym for ISIS.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “these targets have been determined in coordination with the Syrian armed forces,” and that “all the flights took place after air surveillance and careful verification of the data provided by the Syrian military.”
A pro-Hezbollah, pro-Syrian President Bashar al-Assad TV station in Lebanon, Al Mayadeen, reported Thursday that the strikes in the area of Jisr al-Shugour targeted militants of the “Army of Conquest,” which is dominated by hardline Islamist factions, including Nusra (al Qaeda), not ISIS.
At a news conference Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said they agreed their countries should meet soon on the Syrian situation.
“We agreed on the imperative of as soon as possible, perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, but as soon as possible, having a military-to-military deconfliction discussion,” Kerry said.
Such an approach would ensure that Russian aircraft do not interfere or clash with Western warplanes, which are already operating in the area.
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