Russia began airstrikes in Syria allegedly against “terrorists” today, but an unnamed U.S. official told Reuters that the planes do not appear to be targeting areas held by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
Russia’s Defense Ministry has insisted the forces will target places occupied by ISIS. However, the attacks allegedly hit areas held by groups opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Homs and Hama provinces. Local opposition groups say that the planes hit Zafaraneh, Rastan, and Talbiseh, which do not house ISIS.
The opposition reports 36 people have died, including children.
Early Wednesday morning, Russia’s parliament granted Russian President Vladimir Putin “permission to use force abroad.” Russia then demanded all U.S. planes leave Syria while giving the U.S. embassy in Baghdad a one hour notice before they began the airstrikes.
“They gave us a heads-up they were going to start striking in Syria,” stated a defense official. “It was in the vicinity of Homs.”
Photos and videos are surfacing on social media that allegedly prove the Russian presence in areas of Syria not known to be controlled by the Islamic State.
Video from the local opposition group allegedly showing Russian aircraft over Ltamenah, Hama https://t.co/nj0qBL9UMZ
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) September 30, 2015
Russia reportedly hit a CIA-vetted Syrian rebel group that was receiving US anti-tank missiles. https://t.co/p7vKfsr99Z
— DavidKenner (@DavidKenner) September 30, 2015
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) September 30, 2015
On Monday, Putin assured the UN General Assembly that his troops would only target ISIS. From CNN:
A senior U.S. defense official told CNN the Pentagon was “taken aback” by Russia’s actions. “Our presidents just talked about setting up de-confliction talks and now they just go ahead and do this? They cannot be trusted.”
A second U.S. official said: “This is not how military relations are conducted, by banging on the door of our embassy and reading a note.”
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Lavrov told the UN Security Council that Russia received a request from Assad to start the strikes.
“On the 30th of September in response to a letter by the President of Syria, the President of Russia asked and received the consent of the Council of Federation for the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” he said. “We’re referring here exclusively to the operation of the Russian air force to carry out strikes against ISIL positions in Syria. We have informed the authorities in the United States and other members of the coalition created by the Americans of this and are ready to forge standing channels of communication to ensure maximally effective fight against the terrorist groups.”
The airstrikes come only days after Putin claimed there were no Russian boots on the ground.
“This military operation is limited in time,” he said at the time. “Russian air forces will help Assad’s army while it’s on the offensive mode. There will be no Russian boots on the ground.”