US says Russia striking CIA-backed militants

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WASHINGTON: A new US intelligence assessment says Russia has been targeting militant groups backed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Syria, deepening US anger at Moscow.

The assessment, shared by commanders on the ground, has led American officials to conclude that Russian warplanes have intentionally struck CIA-backed militants in a string of attacks running for days, the Wall Street Journa lreports.

Obama administration officials are debating how the United States can come to the aid of its proxy forces on the ground without risking a broader conflict, according to the Journal.

US officials said Russia’s moves in Syria posed a direct challenge to President Barack Obama’s Syria policy.

“On day one, you can say it was a one-time mistake,” a senior US official said of a Russian strike on a militant headquarters. “But on day three and day four, there’s no question it’s intentional. They know what they’re hitting.”

Administration officials said they believe Russia’s targeting of US-allied forces is aimed at shoring up the Syrian government and sending a message to the White House.

Militants take part in a military training session in the Syrian city of Aleppo on June 10, 2015

Moscow’s commitment to the Syrian government runs counter to current US policy, which calls for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia has been beefing up its military presence in neighboring Syria, deploying warplanes, tanks and personnel to an airfield in the western port city of Latakia. It launched a coordinated air campaign to fight Daesh (ISIL) and other terrorists.

Senior Russian officials have said the current campaign is limited to airstrikes, but have not ruled out “volunteers” on the ground.

Syria has been gripped by a foreign-backed militancy since March 2011 aimed at toppling the Assad government. The violence has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people so far.

With assistance from its regional allies Jordan and Turkey, the US has been conducting a program to train and arm a proxy force of “moderate” militants in Syria purportedly to combat Daesh terrorists.

The program, considered a centerpiece of Obama’s Syria policy, has faltered as most of its small cadre of trained militants have either defected to terrorist groups or surrendered arms to save their lives. Agencies

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