US officials said Wednesday that Russian airstrikes near Homs, Syria, appear to be targeting U.S.-backed moderates and other Islamist rebel groups, instead of Islamic State fighters, who are not known to be in that region.
The Syrian National Council, a political group allied with anti-Assad rebels, claimed the Russian air strikes killed 36 civilians.
The rebels have already struggled in the fight against the Syrian military, dogged by internal divisions and the rise of radical jihadist groups such as Islamic State and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
Further complicating the USA response, Lebanese sources said hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive in support of Assad.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest described Russia’s air operations, which began Monday, as “indiscriminate military operations against the Syrian opposition”.
Haj Ali, a Syrian army captain who defected after the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, said a few of the guards of the facility were slightly wounded in the attack.
US defense officials refused to say Thursday whether any aid was in the offing.
The Pentagon on Thursday had its first conversation with Russian officials in an effort to avoid any unintended U.S.-Russian confrontations as the airstrikes continue in the skies over Syria.
“Their initial strikes were against the individuals and the groups that have been funded and trained by our Central Intelligence Agency”, McCain told CNN, adding that the move showed Moscow’s real priority: to “prop up” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A USA military spokesman in Baghdad, Col. Steve Warren, said he had no indication that the Russians had hit Islamic State targets.
It has been reported that the militants were amazed about the accuracy of the strikes on their positions.
“We are focused on the situation in Iraq but we have no influence over the situation in Syria or over what takes place in Syria”, said Saad al-Hadithi.
A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry also rejected the reports of civilian deaths and called them part of an “information war“.
With the rebels now facing more sophisticated Russian jets flying at higher altitudes than the older Syrian air force, Zoubi reiterated the demand for anti-aircraft weapons, notably from Arab states that are vying for regional sway with Iran.
Still, the prospect of a fundamental shift in US policy – with officials sending a broad array of rebel groups advanced weaponry, like shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles – comes with its own downside. The regime’s warplanes lack sensors for accurate targeting and the kind of guided munitions that the USA military famously sent streaking through buildings’ air vents during the 1991 Gulf War.