Two Russian air strikes in Syria on Thursday hit a training camp operated by rebel group that received military training from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, its commander said.
Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group, told Reuters the camp in Idlib province was struck by around 20 missiles in two separate sorties.
Haj Ali, a Syrian army captain who defected after the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, said some of the guards of the facility were slightly wounded in the attack.
“Russia is challenging everyone and saying there is no alternative to Bashar,” Haj Ali said. He said the Russian jets had been identified by members of his group who once served as Syrian air force pilots.
His group counts itself as part of the “Free Syrian Army”, which was set up by Syrian army defectors after the eruption of the uprising. The FSA today is a loose alliance of rebel groups without a centralized command and control structure.
The CIA has run an ostensibly covert training program for vetted Syrian rebel groups deemed moderate by Western states that have supported the uprising against Assad.
Haj Ali said his fighters had attended several trainings in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It is at least the third “Free Syrian Army” group to report being targeted in air strikes which Russia says are targeting Islamic State.
U.S. Senator John McCain on Thursday said Russia’s initial air strikes in Syria targeted recruits in the Free Syrian Army rebel group backed by the United States.
And just when Russian Federation started the anti-ISIL airstrike campaign, Western media reported that all those US-trained rebels, who were previously missing, suddenly appeared out of the desert and said that their entire training grounds were hit and commanders killed.
During a news conference Thursday, he stated the airstrikes were being carried out in “complete cooperation” with the Syrian army, noting that any armed group fighting the Syrian forces is considered terrorist.
The Obama administration – blindsided by the speed of Moscow’s direct intervention and a Russian target list that included CIA-trained fighters – made clear on Thursday that the it had no desire to increase the risk of an air clash between the former Cold War foes.
No longer tied to al-Qaeda, it now controls territory roughly equal in area to the United Kingdom, though it may have recently lost territory in Iraq. But this figure could double if the more populous pro-government areas become too risky to live in.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest blasted Russian Federation for “indiscriminate bombing of Syrian opposition targets” and said it was making a “grave miscalculation”. At any time if the United States truly wanted to strike an irreparable blow at ISIS forces, it could simply seal off the Turkish border across which the summation of ISIS’ supplies, fighters, weapons, and vehicles flow.
Officials said, however, that other unidentified groups were also being targeted.