A U.S. non-governmental organization called the Syrian Emergency Task Force told Foreign Policy their field office in the Idlib province was hit by a Russian airstrike on Saturday. Other civilian damage in the area has been reported, and the strike is being cited as evidence Russia is not focusing its attention on Islamic State targets, as it frequently claims.
The Syrian Emergency Task Force describes itself as a tax-exempt organization “created to support the Syrian people’s demand for freedom and democracy, regardless of ethnicity, religion, or background. SETF seeks to convey the democratic aspirations of Syrians to the American public, and support humanitarian efforts to assist victims of the Syrian crisis.”
In their statement to Foreign Policy, the group said Russian warplanes “completely destroyed” their office in Idlib, which was used to “host civil society workshops, help distribute U.S. humanitarian aid, and document atrocities.” The staff was not present at the time of the attack, so there were no casualties.
“This attack on a humanitarian field office and surrounding civilian areas is yet another in a string of despicable violations of international law,” declared executive director Mouaz Moustafa.
Foreign Policy notes the Russians would not comment on the incident, while the Pentagon would neither confirm or deny the attack, although they viewed the report as plausible. The SETF provided photographic evidence of the damage.
As Foreign Policy observes, the SETF bombing, along with incidents such as the death of 12 schoolchildren from a Russian bomb that hit a classroom on Monday, will make the upcoming U.N.-brokered peace talks a good deal more difficult. As if the opposition was not already wary of cutting deals with the murderous dictator it has opposed for half a decade, they are now furious at the Assad regime for bringing in foreign support that inflicts collateral damage.
For their part, Assad and his patrons in Russia and Iran consider most of the resistance to be politically illegitimate terrorists. In fact, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) notes that Russia has positioned itself as the ally of both the Assad regime and “tailored elements of the Syrian armed opposition”—the “Syrian patriotic forces”—against the worst terrorist elements, such as ISIS.
However, the ISW charges that “Russia is overstating and, in some cases, fabricating its efforts to support armed opposition groups in Syria,” and is using disinformation to “obfuscate its position as the regime’s guarantor against the armed opposition and present itself as a legitimate mediating actor ahead of negotiations.” Russian bombs have been falling quite frequently on ISIS-free civilian areas, which is why the Pentagon thought the complaint from SETF about the bombing of their field office sounded plausible.