Russian Defense Ministry: Airstrikes in Syria will 'continue intensifying'

Russia says it is attacking the Islamic State and "other terrorist groups" in Syria, but members of the U.S.-led coalition, which has conducted airstrikes against IS forces for more than a year, accused Russia of killing civilians and attacking moderate Syrian groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.

By Fred Lambert

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- Russia says it will "continue intensifying" its air campaign in Syria following a series of successful airstrikes against Islamic State forces in the country.

A Sunday statement by the Russian defense ministry said the Russian air force "performed 20 flights over the last day" and struck 10 IS positions, including eight facilities near Jisr al-Shugur, in Idlib province, and a training camp and ammunition depot in al-Tabqa, in the Raqqa province.


The announcement came a day after members of the U.S.-led coalition, which has been bombing IS forces in Syria since September 2014, said Russian airstrikes had killed civilians and not targeted IS positions in the country.

Russian Col. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov on Saturday said the air campaign had since its beginning last Wednesday resulted in 60 sorties that engaged more than 50 IS infrastructure targets, including training camps, ammunition and explosives depots, command and communication centers and bomb factories.


"It is to be underlined that these efforts resulted in destruction of material and technical basis of terrorists and considerably reduced their combat potential," Kartapolov said, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, adding that intelligence suggested up to 600 "mercenaries" were fleeing in panic.

"Thus," Kartapolov said, "the Russian air strikes will not only be continued; their intensiveness will be increased."

On Saturday, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States -- members of the international bombing campaign against IS, known as Operation Inherent Resolve -- released a joint statement expressing "deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria," accusing Moscow of strikes in Hama, Homs and Idlib provinces that did not target IS and resulted in civilian casualties.

"These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization," the statement read. "We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting [IS]."

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group monitoring the war in Syria, reported Russian warplanes killed at least 30 civilians during airstrikes in Homs province Friday.


British Prime Minister David Cameron on Saturday told the BBC it was clear Russia was not interested in fighting IS forces so much as propping up the Assad regime.

"It's absolutely clear that Russia is not discriminating between [IS] and the legitimate Syrian opposition groups and, as a result, they are actually backing the butcher Assad and helping him," he said. "Rightly, they [Russia] have been condemned across the Arab world for what they have done and I think the Arab world is right about that."

The Syrian Civil War has raged since 2011, when Assad ordered a brutal crackdown on Arab Spring protesters that spiraled into full-scale street fighting and the proliferation of jihadist groups in the country. IS constitutes a fraction of the opposition, with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, known as YPG, fighting both IS forces and the Assad regime, and an array of mainly Sunni Muslim rebel groups in the same position.

Russia and Iran have backed the Assad government since the start of the conflict, but the recent Russian build-up represents a significant escalation on behalf of Moscow.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said the Russian operation in Syria is driving moderate opposition underground and "only strengthening" IS forces.


Russian airstrikes in Syria began three days after Iraqi officials announced they would be sharing intelligence about IS forces with Iran, Russia and the Assad regime -- a move that is reported to have taken the Obama administration off guard.

In an interview with Iranian al-Khabar TV on Sunday, Assad said "the coalition between Syria, Russia, Iran and Iraq must be destined to success, otherwise, we would face the destruction of the entire region."

Assad claimed that unlike the U.S.-led coalition -- which in June claimed to have killed 10,000 IS fighters -- the alliance would "achieve practical results."

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