Russia has finally launched airstrikes in Syria, and the Pentagon announced that it will not stay out of the way despite Russia’s requests. United States Defense Secretary Ash Carter updated reporters Wednesday on Russia’s recent activities.
Carter emphatically stated that U.S. forces conducting airstrikes on ISIS targets will continue as scheduled and will not yield to Russian jets. He also confirmed that Russia’s strikes were conducted on areas of Syria not known to house the operations of ISIS fighters, thereby raising the risks that the U.S.-led forces and Russian forces may collide.
Carter stated that, “The coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned, as we did today. We intend to continue to conduct the air operations as we have been doing. We don’t intend to make any changes in our air operations.”
He further noted that, “One of the reasons why the Russian position is contradictory is that exact potential for them to strike, as they may well have, in places where in fact [ISIS] is not present; others are present . . . it does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not [ISIS] forces, and that is precisely one of the problems with this whole approach.”
The United States believes that Russia’s primary goal is not to combat ISIS but rather to strike those who oppose the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad as well as other groups who oppose both Assad and ISIS. Fighting ISIS seems like a secondary, contradictory goal.
In an effort to minimize or eliminate conflicts between Russian and U.S. forces, Carter indicated that there will be a meeting between the two countries in the very near future “to insure we could avoid any unintended incidents over Syrian airspace.”
Carter reported that Russian officials provided U.S. authorities with about a one-hour notice before they launched their strikes. He also stated that the Russian officials “further requested that U.S. aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during these missions. 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 [ISIS].”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters that as of now, Russia does not want any trouble with the United States. He pointed out that, “The Russians have made clear they’re not interested in provoking a conflict.”
Carter believes the Russians have done what they said they were going to do. “I take the Russians at their word - they’re exceptionally clear about what they’re saying, and their actions now seem to reflect what they said they’re going to do. My problem isn’t that I don’t understand what they’re doing - my problem is what I think they’re trying to do.”