Almost four out of every five declared targets of Russian airstrikes in Syria are located in areas not held by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), according to an analysis of Russian Defense Ministry data by Reuters.
That means that the majority (almost 80 percent) of Russian strikes in Syria do not target ISIS, undermining Moscow’s assertions that its aim is to defeat the jihadist group, notes Reuters. The number is higher, however, than the estimate provided by the Turkish government in early October claiming that as few as 0.03 percent of Russian airstrikes were targeting the Islamic State.
“The majority of strikes, according to the analysis, have instead been in areas held by other groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which include al Qaeda offshoots but also fighters backed by Washington and its allies,” mentions the article.
Defense ministry statements of targets struck by the Russian military and an online archive of Russian military maps show Moscow has hit 64 named locations since President Vladimir Putin ordered the first round of strikes late last month.
“Of those targets, a maximum of 15 were in areas held by Islamic State, according to a survey of locations of the rival forces in Syria compiled by the Institute for the Study of War,” reports Reuters.
“If you look at the map, you can easily understand that they are not fighting Islamic State but other opposition groups,” Alexander Golts, a Moscow-based defense columnist and deputy editor of online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal, told Reuters.
The U.S. and its allies have accused Russia of going into Syria to support Assad, not defeat ISIS.
Reuters reports, “The data supports assertions from Washington and its NATO allies that Russia’s intervention in Syria, its biggest military deployment abroad since the collapse of the Soviet Union, is designed to prop up Assad, who flew to Moscow on Tuesday to thank Putin for his support.”
“Moscow’s other possible motives could be to maintain a strategic foothold in the Middle East and showcase itself as a global military power at a time when relations with the West have sunk to a post-Soviet low over the crisis in Ukraine,” it adds.
Russian officials have denied the accusations and have stressed on numerous occasions that Moscow is targeting ISIS and other groups they deem Islamist terrorist. Moscow claims Russia and the West are combating a common enemy.
“However, the pattern of the strikes in Syria suggests a different picture,” reports Reuters.
“Russia’s air force has flown over 780 sorties against almost 800 targets in Syria since Sept. 30,” it adds. “As recently as Monday, its jets hit targets in six named locations, none of which were in areas held by Islamic State, the Reuters analysis showed.”
The Russian defense ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
“Statements from the United States Central Command show that 84 air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State hit 13 locations in Syria between Sept.30 and Oct. 19,” acknowledges Reuters.
“In contrast to the Russian campaign, the coalition strikes were concentrated in Syria’s northern and eastern regions, where Islamic State militants have take control of large swathes of the country,” it continues.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses sources on the ground to monitor the Syrian conflict, Russia’s air campaign has killed 370 people in the last three weeks, a third of them civilians.