By Candace Kellner
Russia carried out new airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, Oct. 1, a day after it entered the Syrian civil war, fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Russian Aerospace Forces engaged another four #ISIS facilities in #Syria this night,” Russian Ministry of Defense announced on Twitter, along with a video that captured large explosions. The strikes were carried out by eight Russian aircrafts, which claimed to hit ISIS “terrorist staff,” according to CNN. However, as the military campaign progressed, Russia’s aims started to target those who oppose President al-Assad, including more moderate factions that are supported by the United States and other western countries.
While Russia claims to be working against terrorist groups, it appears to be intent on supporting the Assad regime, a Syrian official stated after Thursday’s attack. Russians are fighting alongside the Syrians to destroy not only ISIS, but also all of the other Syrian rebel groups, the Syrian ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad, told CNN. Haddad said to CNN that all of the rebel groups, including ISIS, share a common goal: “to spread terror.” Haddad told CNN that the impact of the recent Russian airstrikes have been more effective than all of the coalition airstrikes so far combined. He said that the Syrian army and the Russian army have been working very closely together, sharing intelligence and data.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told CNN that he could “absolutely confirm” that the initial Russian airstrikes were “against our Free Syrian Army or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA, because we have communications with people there.”
He called the Russian strikes “an incredible flouting of any kind of cooperation or effort to conceal what… Putin’s priority is. And that is of course to prop up Bashar-al Assad.” Russian officials had said they were attacking ISIS, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was careful to indicate that the targets in Syria were not limited to that group.
“At the request of the Syrian government, we’re helping them to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups,” Lavrov said.
U.S. officials are questioning whether ISIS is active in the areas hit by the Russian strikes, around the city of Homs, in western Syria near the border with Lebanon. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that the Russian attacks did not appear to hit targets under the control of ISIS, which operates in the north and east of the country, according to CNN.
A Washington-based think tank known as the Institute for the Study of War also cast doubt on Russia’s strike.
“Local Syrian sources claim that the airstrikes exclusively targeted rebel positions, including the headquarters of Free Syrian Army-affiliated, Western backed TOW anti-tank missile recipient al-lzza,” the group reported on its website.