Russia launched its second day of airstrikes in Syria on Thursday and United States officials continue to question Russia’s true motives in employing the bombing campaign. On Wednesday, United States Defense Secretary Ashton Carter expressed his concerns that Russia’s true intention was to combat those who oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In fact, Russian jets attacked areas of Syria where ISIS and Al Qaeda targets are not operating, thereby raising questions as what they were really doing.
Earlier today, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, confirmed that Russia had carried out 20 airstrikes against ISIS and other “well-known” extremist terrorist groups. He further stated that all airstrikes were carried out in coordination with the Syrian army.
The question arises as to what is considered a terrorist group. The United States considers ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorist groups. Russia expands that definition and includes those groups that oppose al-Assad, including the Syrian rebels that the United States support. Russian officials even acknowledge that in addition to attacking ISIS, “other unidentified groups” are being targeted as well. Therein lies a problem.
The United States and Russia both agree there is an imminent need to fight ISIS but they do not agree on what to do with al-Assad. The U.S. wants him to step down but Russia wants him to remain in power, likely so that Russia can expand its influence in the Middle East.
As expected, Iran wholeheartedly supports Russia’s involvement in the Syrian crisis. Iran’s Foreign Ministry stated that, “The Islamic Republic of Iran considers military action by Russia against armed terrorist groups to be a step toward fighting terrorism and toward resolving the current crisis.”
Despite conflicting reports, Putin denied that civilians were killed in the airstrikes. In a live broadcast from the Kremlin, Putin stated that, “We are ready for such information attacks. The first reports of civilian casualties came even before our jets took off.”
The Syrian civil war, which grew out of the rebels’ uprising against al-Assad, has sent millions of refugees fleeing to other countries and has killed more than 250,000 people.