Russia says it targets ‘list’ of militants in Syria, not just the Islamic State group

Russian jets carried out a second day of airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, but there were conflicting claims about whether they were targeting Islamic State and al-Qaida militants or trying to shore up the defences of President Bashar Assad.

MOSCOW — Russian jets carried out a second day of airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, but there were conflicting claims about whether they were targeting Islamic State and al-Qaida militants or trying to shore up the defences of President Bashar Assad.

As concerns grew about a conflict that has now drawn in warplanes from the world’s two most powerful militaries, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied reports that civilians were killed in any Russian airstrikes.

“We are ready for such information attacks,” he said in a live broadcast from the Kremlin. “The first reports of civilian casualties came even before our jets took off.”

U.S. and Russian military officials began talks on Thursday on ways to avoid their forces firing on each other in Syria.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his country and the U.S.-coalition “see eye-to-eye” on the targets of the fight in Syria. He added that “we believe that our position is absolutely in line with international law.”

Russian jets appeared to be primarily bombing central and northwestern Syria, strategic regions that are the gateway to Assad’s strongholds in the capital Damascus and the coast. The United States and allies fear that Russia, which has backed the Assad family since the current leader’s father was in power, is using the air campaign as a pretext to go after anti-Assad rebels that include CIA-backed groups.

U.S. Sen. John McCain said Thursday that some Russian airstrikes in Syria were aimed at CIA-backed groups fighting the Assad regime, echoing claims from activists.

McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN he “can absolutely confirm to you that they were strikes against our Free Syrian Army, or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA, because we have communications with people there.” However, he later said the claim was based on published reports

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian aircraft damaged or destroyed 12 targets in Syria belonging to the Islamic State group including a command centre and two ammunition depots. Officials acknowledged, however, that other unidentified groups were being targeted as well.

Konashenkov said Russian Su-25M and Su-25 jets flew 20 sorties between Wednesday and Thursday morning. He insisted that civilian areas were not targeted.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said airstrikes in the central province of Hama on Thursday hit locations of the U.S.-backed rebel group Tajamu Alezzah, as well as the province of Idlib, which is controlled by a coalition of rebel groups that include al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.

The British group said Tajamu Alezzah was also targeted on Wednesday.

Russia’s air campaign in support of Syrian government forces began Wednesday in what Putin called a pre-emptive strike against militants. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia was going after IS militants as well as a “list” of other groups.

“These organizations are well known and the targets are chosen in co-ordination with the armed forces of Syria,” he said Thursday, without specifying.

Hundreds of Muslim Chechens and Central Asian fighters have joined the battles in Syria since the early days of the civil war, and many form the backbone of al-Nusra and Islamic State. Some of those Chechen extremists are part of the coalition that controls Idlib.

Putin has said Russia would be fighting “gangs of international terrorists.” The Syrian government considers all rebel groups terrorists.

In Paris, Russian Ambassador Alexander Orlov insisted that Russian warplanes in Syria were hitting at the same extremists targeted by the U.S. and denied American claims that its military failed to co-ordinate the airstrikes.

Orlov said the targets were installations for IS and Jabhat al-Nusra, “two terrorist organizations recognized as such.”

The U.S. and Russia agree on the need to fight IS but not about what to do with Assad. The Syrian civil war, which grew out of an uprising against the longtime leader, has killed more than 250,000 people since March 2011 and sent millions fleeing elsewhere in the Middle East and Europe.

With American and allied airstrikes daily, and now Russian warplanes in the Syrian airspace, the war is taking on a dangerous new dimension.

Orlov said Russian officials warned the Americans “via confidential channels” of where they planned to strike. He also noted a co-ordinationcentre was being set up in Baghdad that would include Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Russians — and any other country that wants to participate.

Khaled Khoja, head of the Syrian National Council opposition group, said at the U.N. that Russian airstrikes in four areas, including Talbiseh, killed 36 civilians, with five children among the dead. The claim could not be independently verified.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said it fully supports Russian airstrikes against “terrorist groups” in Syria.

The ministry’s spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, said the “Islamic Republic of Iran considers military action by Russia against armed terrorist groups to be a step toward fighting terrorism and toward resolving the current crisis” in Syria.

Her statement was carried by the official IRNA news agency.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The UCP government has turned down a request from the opposition to discuss a bill intended to protect the Rocky Mountains in the legislature. (CP file photo).
Consultations on coal mining don’t go far enough: NDP

Coal mining in the Rockies has not sat well with many Albertans… Continue reading

The future of Westerner Park continues to be plagued by many unknowns, including when city council will make a decision about financing its operations. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Red Deer city council delays making decision on Westerner Park financing

It will mean missing the next opportunity to apply for a provincial loan

Nineteen-year-old Amanda enjoys a ride during a visit to Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. photo submitted
Busy days at Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler

The ranch, which launched operations last summer, provides support through animal interaction

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer at the announcement that the city will be getting a drug treatment court Thursday. Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, looks on.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Veer concerned about rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

The City of Red Deer is reminding citizens to protect themselves against… Continue reading

Rode
Volunteering played major role in RDC awards

Under normal circumstances, the RDC Red Deer Bottling Athlete of the Year… Continue reading

Curtis Labelle (second from left) and his band are planning a cross-Canada tour in 2022. Meanwhile, Labelle is continuing to host his weekly livestreamed talk show, Chattin 88. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer rock pianist takes on a talk show role

Curtis Labelle’s Chattin 88 gets views from around the globe

LtE bug
Letter: Questions around city funding for Westerner

The Advocate article on April 21 on page 3 “Council to discuss… Continue reading

Toronto Maple Leafs' Nick Foligno (71) and Mitchell Marner (16) celebrate Marner's goal on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during second-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Thursday, April 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Leafs end five-game winless skid with 5-3 win over Jets in North Division battle

Taylor Pendrith from Richmond Hill, Ont. salutes the crowd after sinking a birdie on the 18th hole to come in at five under par during first round of play at the Canadian Open golf championship Thursday, July 24, 2014 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

PGA Tour Canada splits into Canadian, American circuits for 20201

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Like father, like son: Floreal emerges as one of Canada’s top sprinters

Toronto Blue Jays center fielder George Springer (4) walks on the field during a team workout, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, at Yankee Stadium in New York. The Blue Jays face the New York Yankees on opening day Thursday in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Injured Jays OF Springer to play in intrasquad game Friday

Injured Jays OF Springer to play in intrasquad game Friday

Toronto Raptors' Khem Birch (24) defends against Brooklyn Nets' Blake Griffin during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Raptors ride strong 3rd quarter to 114-103 win over Nets

Raptors ride strong 3rd quarter to 114-103 win over Nets

Team Canada's Jocelyne Larocque celebrates her goal past the U.S.A. with goaltender Embrace Maschmeyer during first period of Women's Rivalry Series hockey action in Vancouver, Wednesday, February 5, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Stunned Canadian players head home after women’s world hockey cancellation

Stunned Canadian players head home after women’s world hockey cancellation

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is shown at a COVID-19 press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai
Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Most Read