Russia Declares War On US Backed Rebels

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian jets carried out a second day of strikes in Syria Thursday, and some activists claimed that the targets included rebels backed by the United States as concerns grew about a conflict that has now drawn in warplanes from the world’s two most powerful militaries.

Moscow admitted that its air strikes will not solely be targeting Isis.

President Vladimir Putin’s official spokesperson said that “well known” militant groups were in its sights but did not name individual organisations.

“These organisations (on the target list) are well-known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria,” Dmitry Peskov said.

Ministers dismissed claims that Wednesday’s strikes had hit non-Islamist rebels, with the Russian ministry of defence publishing a video claiming to show Isis warehouses, equipment and vehicles being blown up.

Russian Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov said Russian aircraft damaged or destroyed 12 targets in Syria belonging to the ISIS including a command center and two ammunition depots. 

Konashenkov said Russian Su-25M and Su-25 jets flew 20 sorties between Wednesday and Thursday morning, and he insisted that civilian areas were not targeted.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said airstrikes in the central province of Hama on Thursday hit locations of the U.S.-backed rebel group, Tajamu Alezzah, as well as the province of Idlib, which is controlled by a coalition of rebel groups that include al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.

The British group said Tajamu Alezzah was also targeted on Wednesday.

Russia’s air campaign in support of Syrian government forces began Wednesday in what Putin called a pre-emptive strike against militants. Putin has said Russia would be fighting “gangs of international terrorists.” The Syrian government considers all rebel groups terrorists.

In Paris, Russian Ambassador Alexander Orlov insisted that Russian warplanes in Syria were hitting at the same extremists targeted by the U.S. and denied American claims that its military failed to coordinate the airstrikes.

With American and allied airstrikes daily, and now Russian warplanes in the Syrian airspace, the war is taking on a dangerous new dimension.

Orlov said Russian officials warned the Americans “via confidential channels” of where they planned to strike. He also noted a coordination center was being set up in Baghdad that would include Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and Russians — and any other country that wants to participate.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said it fully supports Russian airstrikes against “terrorist groups” in Syria.

The ministry’s spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, said 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” in Syria.

But initial reports today indicated that areas under the control of other rebel groups, including Jisr al-Shugour, Kafr Nabl and Ghanto, were being bombed, along with the towns of Talbiseh and Latamneh, where witnesses claimed they were also hit by the Russians on Wednesday.

Jisr al-Shughour is a stronghold of a coalition of Islamist groups called Jaysh al-Fateh which includes al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham.

The Russian defence ministry said at least 20 air strikes have been carried out so far in its campaign. The US and its allies have carried out at least 7,162 strikes in Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

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