LIVE UPDATES: Unconfirmed reports and images from Syria indicate that the Russian air offensive has entered its second day. Comments from Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s press secretary, indicate that the targeting of the opposition groups other than ISIS is now officially sanctioned. So far, none of the settlements reported to have been bombed are ISIS-controlled.
The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.
The Washington Post reports that Haider al-Abadi, the Iraqi prime minister, has told France24 that he would welcome Russian air strikes on Iraqi territory.
“It’s a possibility; if we get the offer we’ll consider it,” he said in an interview with France 24 television in New York that is due to be broadcast Thursday. “In actual fact, I would welcome it.”
However, airstrikes have not been discussed “yet,” Abadi told the network Wednesday night…
“I think there’s a lot of political bickering at the moment which may make things worse, but if we can direct our resources towards fighting Daesh, that will be a good day for Iraq, Syria, for the region,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
— Pierre Vaux
“For more than a year now, other countries have been delivering strikes on Syrian territory — for more than a year. [These actions] have been done without a resolution from the UN Security Council and without the appropriate request from the official Syrian authorities. We have such a request and we intend to fight exactly the terrorist organizations.
As for media information regarding the suffering of the civilian population, we are prepared for these information attacks. The first reports that there were casualties among the civilian population appeared before our planes even reached altitude.”
Putin also reiterated that he hoped that Russia and the US would create a regularly operating mechanism to exchange information on Syria. But he added that this did not mean that Russia should heed “information attacks”:
“It is precisely for this reason that we are establishing contacts between our intelligence services, between our intelligence services and those of the US, and between our defense ministries. This work is under way, and I hope that it will end with the creation of a permanently operating mechanism.
We have already created another international mechanism in Baghdad in which several countries take part and constant work is underway there.”
Russia has recently formed a coordinating center with Iran, Iraq and Syria, which opened up the question of whether US advisers providing information to Iraq would now be sharing it involuntarily with Russia.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The main focus of this new assault, backed by Iranian and Hezbollah fighters, will reportedly be key strongholds of the anti-Assad rebels — areas where there is now heavy bombing by Russian aircraft:
Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria in the last 10 days and will soon join government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies in a major ground offensive backed by Russian air strikes, two Lebanese sources told Reuters.
“The (Russian) air strikes will in the near future be accompanied by ground advances by the Syrian army and its allies,” said one of the sources familiar with political and military developments in the conflict.
“It is possible that the coming land operations will be focused in the Idlib and Hama countryside,” the source added.
The two sources said the operation would be aimed at recapturing territory lost by President Bashar al-Assad’s government to rebels.
— James Miller
US Senator John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, has told CNN that rebel fighters trained and armed by the CIA were among those targeted by Russian air strikes:
“I can absolutely confirm to you that they were strikes against the Free Syrian Army or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA because we have communication with people there.”
The rebels appear to be reporting the same thing:
Yesterday, a Free Syrian Army rebel unit was struck in Al Lataminah in northwest Hama province. Those rebels gave interviews to media outlets in which they said that they had recently received TOW anti-tank missiles from a “foreign power.” The Institute for the Study of War told The Interpreter that the group that was hit was Tajama’a al-Izza, a group which had received anti-tank missiles from Turkey. We know, however, that all groups that are receiving arms would have to be cleared by the US. It’s not clear, however, whether Tajama’a al-Izza is the group referenced by John McCain or AFP.
— James Miller, Pierre Vaux
The Interpreter often cites The Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC) as a source for what happens on the ground. There are many very good reasons for doing so. Before joining The Interpreter, this author spent 3 years covering the day-to-day developments in Syria, similar to what The Interpreter has done with the war in Ukraine. Not only have the LCCs been consistently reliable, they meticulously document their work.
The Local Coordination Committees are a centralized network of activists who are organized in cities and towns across Syria. The LCCs were initially formed to foster and document peaceful protests across the country, and when the Syrian regime began to teargas, arrest, beat, shoot, and then bomb the protesters, the LCC created a protocol for verifying that news as well.
Before reporting news or uploading videos, the LCC says that it confirms the news through its local chapters. In order to report a death, the LCC must either document the body directly or have multiple sources — usually a family member, cleric, medical professional, and an eyewitness.
When contacted, the LCC is often quick to respond with additional supporting evidence for their claims. Furthermore, field journalists who have spoken to this author have confirmed the extensive presence and diligent methods of LCC volunteers.
For this reason, the LCC’s numbers are key to populating another source — the Violations Documentation Center, which attempts to tally Syria’s casualties. The VDC’s main shortcoming is that it has stringent standards which suppress the overall confirmed number of deaths. One area, in particular, where both the VDC and the LCC struggle is the coverage of pro-regime areas and pro-regime deaths. The reason is simple: their work is not allowed there, their activists are often targeted by the regime, and as a result they often do not have access to pro-regime medics, clerics, families, or eyewitnesses. Though this statistic is undercounted, the Syrian regime could easily release these numbers. It chooses not to do so.
— James Miller
Videos have been uploaded to YouTube which purportedly show Russian air strikes on Kafranbel and al-Ganto:
Just a few days ago, residents of Kafranbel protested against US inaction in the face of Russia’s intervention in Syria:
Earlier this morning, it was reported that Kafranbel, al-Ghanto, al-Lataminah, Talbeseh and Jirs al-Shughour had all been bombed by the Russian Air Force.
Statements in the last hour from the Russian Ministry of Defence appear to confirm this.
Of course, as has now been widely reported, ISIS has no presence in these areas, which are actually controlled by other opposition groups.
The MOD released video footage of several of the air strikes, taken from either reconnaissance drones or bomber targeting cameras:
A spokesman for the Ministry told reporters today that “Russia’s Air Force fleet in Syria includes over 50 warplanes and helicopters.”
— Pierre Vaux
Reports from Syria indicate that the Russian Air Force has continued to strike targets today, bombing settlements near Hama, Homs and Idlib.
The following video purportedly shows the aftermath of an air strike on the village of Al-Lataminah in the Hama Governorate this morning:
Reuters reports that Lebanon’s pro-Assad al-Mayadeen TV has claimed that Russian jets bombed locations near Jisr al-Shughour, which the report says is “held by an alliance of insurgents including al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.”
Al-Mayadeen said that at least thirty strikes had been conducted against Jaysh al-Fatah, a coalition of Islamist rebel forces.
There are also unconfirmed reports of Russian air strikes on Kafranbel, a town held by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and famous for daily protests against the Assad regime, ISIS and Western inaction over the war.
If these reports are accurate, then this would indicate a wide front for the current Russian offensive:
Comments to reporters today from Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s press secretary, indicated for the first time that Russia is now officially classifying groups other than ISIS as targets.
As was predicted from the very beginning of Russia’s military deployment to Syria, Russia did not target ISIS fighters yesterday, but opposition groups fighting the Assad regime. However the Russian Ministry of Defence insisted today that ISIS positions were the target, despite the fact that ISIS has no presence in al-Lataminah, which is controlled by the FSA-affiliated Tajama’a al-Izza.
Reuters reports that Peskov said that more than one organisation was on the target list, and that the regime command was coordinating on targets with the Russian Air Force:
“These organizations (on the target list) are well-known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria.”
When asked whether Putin was satisfied with the way the Russian air campaign was shaping up, Peskov said: “It is too early to talk about that.”
Russia’s state-owned Perviy Kanal reported today on the supposed strikes against ISIS, with footage of Su-24 bombers launching from the Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad airbase near Latakia: