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Wednesday
Sep302015

US Confirms Russian Airstrikes in Syria

Sean Gallup/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A U.S. official confirmed that Russian military aircraft conducted airstrikes Wednesday in the vicinity of the city of Homs, Syria. The Russians gave the U.S. only an hour's advance notification that the airstrikes were about to occur through a message conveyed to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, a U.S. official said.

The official did not have details on what types of Russian aircraft conducted the airstrike in the vicinity of Homs or what the Russians were targeting.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not initially confirm Russian airstrikes but then said that the Russian Air Force had begun airstrikes in Syria directed at ISIS territory and targets.

State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed the one hour’s notice provided to the U.S. embassy.

“A Russian official in Baghdad this morning informed U.S. embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying anti-ISIL missions today over Syria,” Kirby said.

“He further requested that U.S. aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during these missions.” Kirby did not confirm the Russian airstrikes instead noting the State Department had seen media reports of the airstrikes.

“The U.S.-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL,” he said.

At the United Nations Wednesday afternoon, Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. would welcome Russia’s military efforts and “multiply the pressure” on ISIS, but only if Russia keeps to its word to hit only ISIS targets.

“But we must not and will not be confused in our fight against ISIL with support for Assad," he said. "Moreover we have also made clear that we would have grave concerns should Russia strike areas where ISIL and al Qaeda affiliated targets are not operating. Strikes of the kind would question Russia’s real intentions fighting ISIL or protecting the Assad regime."

Earlier Wednesday, Russia's upper house of Parliament unanimously approved Russian military operations in Syria.

At a meeting with government officials in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russian military support to the Syrian military would be limited to air operations and not involve Russian ground forces.

According to Russia's Interfax News Agency, Putin said Russian military participation in Syria was based on a Syrian request and on the basis of international law.

However, the U.S. official noted that there is no major ISIS presence in Homs, which is located in western Syria. Over the past three weeks, Russia has moved 32 fighter and bomber aircraft to the airport in Latakia, a city on the Mediterranean. That airport been developed by Russia into a military operations hub, according to U.S. officials.

"There doesn’t seem to be any operational effect on ISIL where they are flying,” said the official, who used the acronym used by the U.S. government to describe ISIS.

According to the official, a Russian general attached to the newly created intelligence center set up by the Russians, Syrians, Iranians and Iraqis in Baghdad went to the U.S. embassy and notified the defense attaché that Russia was going to begin flying airstrikes in Syria in an hour, according to the U.S. official.

The official characterized the notification as an advisory that Russian aircraft would be flying over Syrian airspace. There was no specific mention of where the airstrikes would occur or any demand that U.S. military aircraft leave Syrian airspace.

The official said Russian airstrikes are not going to affect U.S. air operations in Syria.

The Pentagon confirmed Tuesday that Defense Secretary Ash Carter had ordered staff to begin work "to open lines of communication" with Russia to "de-conflict" air operations between both countries over Syria.

But Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary, said details on how that de-confliction between the two military forces remained to be worked out.

With the potential of American and Russian military aircraft flying over the same airspace in Syria, American officials have stressed the need to “de-conflict” their air operations to avoid military encounters between the two military forces. That could involve the sharing of planning for current or future air operations to reduce the chances of an air collision or hostile fire on friendly forces.

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