The Russian airstrike is believed to have destroyed 11 targets, killing no civilians. The conflict continues to grow not just between Russia and the Islamic State, but between Russia and the United States. Videos are surfacing online, showing the Free Syrian Army, a moderate force backed by Western powers, in a conflict against government troops advancing with Russian air support. Russia has reached out to the United States about solving their differences and possibly coordinating their military campaign against the Islamic State, but the Obama Administration refuses, wanting instead to find ways to manage the crowded airspace above Syria.
The naval strikes on Wednesday were the first known operational use of state-of-the-art SSN-30A Kalibr cruise missiles, which were still being tested by the Russian navy in August.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the strikes spoke to the professionalism of Russia’s revamped army.
“We know how difficult it is to carry out this kind of anti-terrorist operation,” Putin told Shoigu. “Of course, it is early to draw conclusions. But what has been done so far deserves a highly positive assessment.”
The strikes came as Syrian troops backed by Russian air power launched their first major ground offensive since Moscow began its intervention in the conflict Sept. 30.
News reports and video of fighting uploaded to the Internet on Wednesday showed that the Syrian army was moving from the city of Hama toward Idlib, a stronghold held by a coalition of mostly Islamist rebels.
While the Kremlin’s stated aim in the conflict is to fight the Islamic State in Syria, the United States and its allies say Russia is concentrating its firepower against other rebel groups to prevent Assad from being overrun. One video on Wednesday appeared to show the Free Syrian Army, a moderate force backed by the West, firing antitank missiles at government troops advancing with Russian air support.
“Russia is targeting civilians and the Free Syrian Army brigades that are supported by America. They are not targeting the Islamic State as they claimed,” said Raed Fares, a Syrian activist in Idlib. “Russia is here to keep Assad in power, so they will strike what Assad strikes.”
In televised remarks on Wednesday, Putin encouraged the Free Syrian Army to join an alliance with Assad’s troops against the Islamic State. At the same time, he belittled the influence of moderate rebels on the conflict.
“True, we don’t currently know where it is and who is leading it,” Putin said of the Free Syrian Army.
Russian news reports Wednesday said Syrian forces launched a heavy artillery bombardment and were moving toward Idlib, but they added that it was not yet clear how far the Syrian troops had advanced.
The news reports also said Syrian troops used advanced rocket-launch systems similar to the ones that Western officials say Moscow shipped to Syria last week.
In a video posted to YouTube from the town of Kafranboudah, in the western part of the Hama countryside, a Syrian rebel commander said government forces began shelling his unit’s position on the front line early Wednesday. Kafranboudah is about 16 miles east of Latakia province, a Syrian regime stronghold. More than a dozen rebel groups formed a coalition to oust government forces from Hama in August.
With so many factions fighting in this war, there's no denying how confusing it is. Russia is fighting the Islamic State, while trying to keep Assad in power, who the United States and other Western powers are trying to overthrow, using rebel forces, who Russia is also fighting. And then there's the matter of the crowded airspace over Syria, where the United States, Russia, Israel and Turkey all seem to be running into each other. The fact that the Obama Administration is refusing the coordinate with Russia in their attacks against the Islamic State goes to show you how petty they are. They've been presented with an opportunity to help rid the world of ISIS, and they can't swallow their pride long enough to forget about Assad for the greater good, even just momentarily. The Pentagon has drafted a document that lays out the “basic rules of flight conduct” and will discuss these terms with Moscow in the days ahead.
Some missiles accidentally landed in Iran: