Russia has carried out its first airstrikes in Syria near the city of Homs, according to a senior U.S. official.
As a result of the Russian airstrikes 36 people were killed, including five women and six children, according to rebel opposition groups.
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Moscow warned Washington to not fly U.S. warplanes in Syria, but did not give any geographical information about exact positions it planned to strike, the official told CNN Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make a public statement.
The official added that U.S. airstrike missions are continuing as usual.
Russian warplanes dropped bombs in Syria hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed a measure through the upper house of the Russian parliament approving the use of Russian military forces in foreign countries.
The vote on using Russian armed forces abroad came after a request by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for military assistance in fighting ISIS militants, according to Russian officials.
Moscow has currently four Russian Su-34 Fullback fighter jets as well as more than 600 Russian troops stationed at the Latakia air base in Syria, according to surveillance missions of U.S. drones in Syria.
Russia’s military intervention in Syria will most likely bring chaos to the war, as it adds Russian airstrikes to the already complicated confusion of Western forces deployed there.
Does Russia target U.S.-trained rebels?
Although Russia claims it launches airstrikes against ISIS, its movements suggest that its targets could be something other than ISIS, according to reports and U.S. officials.
According to activists in Hama, Russian fighter jets dropped bombs on the town of Lataminah, north of the province. A pro-opposition Syrian media outlet – the Homs Media Centre – identified 22 people killed in the Russian airstrikes in the town of Talbiseh, in the north of the province.
However, the reports have not been verified yet. Another video footage reportedly from Hama showed warplanes, which the opposition identified as Russian jets, but it was difficult to say for certain from the distance.
“We see some very sophisticated air defenses going into those airfields. We see some very sophisticated air-to-air aircraft going into these airfields. I have not seen ISIL flying any airplanes that require SA-15s or SA-22s (Russian missiles). I have not seen ISIL flying any airplanes that require sophisticated air-to-air capabilities,” General Phillip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander, told reporters on Monday.
Breedlove added that according to his determination from what might be the intent of the Russians, “these very sophisticated air defense capabilities are not about ISIL. They’re about something else.”
Russia has been gradually increasing its military presence in Syria since the end of last month, while the first half of September saw a large build-up of Russia’s military hardware and troops in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia.
While Moscow claims the Russian military equipment deployed in Syria assists the Assad regime to fight ISIS militants, many experts have noted that it’s more about keeping Assad in power by fighting off U.S.-trained Syrian rebels.
Russia has violated INF treaty, Obama refuses to take action
During his address to the Senate, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work confirmed on Tuesday that Russia has violated a missile the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the U.S., but said that the Obama administration does not plan to take any action at present.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) was signed in 1987 between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to govern the elimination of medium-range missiles.
Russia’s airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday came just two days after U.S. President Barack Obama and Putin met at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where they criticized one another over Syria.
In his address to the UN General Assembly, Putin said that Assad and his militia are the only ones who is “truly” fighting ISIS in Syria, while Obama responded that the Syrian war can’t be stopped as long as Assad is in power.
Putin also called for a broad international coalition against ISIS similar to the anti-Hitler coalition formed during the World War II.
Will Su-34 Fullback help Russia destroy ISIS… or U.S.-trained rebels?
A day before the airstrikes, Russia deployed at least four cutting-edge Sukhoi Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft to Syria as part of its efforts to increase military presence in the region.
The Fullback is a strike derivative of the Su-27 series and the most advanced ground strike aircraft ever deployed by Russia abroad.
The Fullback is a strike aircraft while the Su-34 is capable of air-to-air strikes in an emergency. The aircraft has about 700 miles of strikes radius on internal fuel, and it’s capable of aerial refueling with a probe and drogue system.
By deploying its advanced strike aircraft to Syria, Russia gets the chance to test its cutting-edge military developments in actual combat action, which can provide the Russian military and strategists with hints how to make aerial operations more efficient.
Although this kind of tactic to test Russia’s latest weapons in combat poses a threat to the lives of Syrian civilians, by conducting airstrikes in Syria the Russian military gets an exclusive chance to learn which weapons work and what requires to be fixed.
And while the real foe of the Russian armed forces in Syria is yet unclear – either it’s ISIS or U.S.-trained anti-Assad rebels – Russia now gets the opportunity to catch up to U.S. armed forces, which have had over a decade to test their military developments in combat.