Russia tells U.S. planes to leave Syria
Russian warplanes have begun bombarding Syrian opposition targets in the war torn nation’s north, working on behalf of dictator Bashar al Assad, according to a senior military official.
The official said airstrikes targeted fighters in the vicinity of Homs, located roughly 60 miles east of a Russian naval facility in Tartus, and were carried out by a “couple” of Russian bombers. It was not clear if the strikes targeted ISIS, Al Qaeda or other forces opposed to Assad, who Moscow is aiding. According to a Twitter handle belonging to the Syrian government, the Russian strikes were initiated at the request of Assad.
The development came after Pentagon officials brushed aside an official request from Russia to clear air space over northern Syria, where Moscow intends to conduct airstrikes against ISIS on behalf of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, according to sources who spoke to Fox News.
The request was made by a Russian three-star general who spoke with U.S. officials at the American embassy in Baghdad, sources said. The general, who was not identified, used the word “please” when delivering the verbal request, known as a “demarche,” according to the written transcript of the exchange.
“If you have forces in the area we request they leave,” the general said.
A senior Pentagon official said the U.S., which has also been conducting air strikes against ISIS, but does not support Assad, said the request was not honored.
“We still conducted our normal strike operations in Syria today,” the official said. “We did not and have not changed our operations.”
The move by Moscow marks a major escalation in ongoing tensions between the two countries over military action in the war-torn country and comes moments after Russian lawmakers formally approved a request from the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, to authorize the use of troops in Syria.
The Russian demand also mirrors one made by Turkey this past July, when Ankara asked U.S. planes to fly only in airspace south of Mosul, Iraq. In that case, 24 Turkish jets bombed Kurdish positions, catching the U.S. off guard.
The Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, discussed Putin’s request for the authorization behind the closed doors. Sergei Ivanov, chief of Putin’s administration, said in televised remarks that the parliament voted unanimously to approve the request.
Ivanov said the authorization is necessary “not in order to achieve some foreign policy goals” but “in order to defend Russia’s national interests.”
Putin is obligated to request parliamentary approval for any use of Russian troops abroad, according to the Russian constitution. The last time he did so was before Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.
Putin’s request comes after his bilateral meeting with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, where the two were discussing Russia’s recent military buildup in Syria.
A U.S. official told Fox News Monday the two leaders agreed to discuss political transition in Syria but were at odds over the role that Assad should play in resolving the civil conflict. The official said Obama reiterated to Putin that he does not believe there is a path to stability in Syria with Assad in power. Putin has said the world needs to support Assad because his military has the best chance to defeat ISIS militants.
Putin said the meeting, which lasted a little over 90 minutes, was “very constructive, business-like and frank”.
“We are thinking about it, and we don’t exclude anything.” Putin told reporters at the time
The Kremlin reported that Putin hosted a meeting of the Russian security council at his residence Tuesday night outside of Moscow, saying that they were discussing terrorism and extremism.
On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on Russia to make a real contribution to the fight against ISIS, telling reporters at the United Nations that Moscow “is against the terrorists, it’s not abnormal to launch strikes against them.”
“The international community has hit (ISIS). France has hit (ISIS), Bashar al-Assad very little, and the Russians not at all. So one has to look at who does what,” Fabius added.
Russia has been a staunch supporter of Assad during Syria’s bloody civil war, and multiple reports have previously indicated that Russian troops are aiding Assad’s forces. Israel’s defense minister also said earlier this month that Russian troops are in Syria to help Assad fight the ISIS terror group.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Russia’s Foreign Ministry told the news agency Interfax that a recently established operations center in Baghdad would help coordinate air strikes and ground troops in Syria. Fox News first reported last week that the center had been set up by Russian, Syrian and Iranian military commanders with the goal of working with Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting ISIS.
Over the weekend, the Iraqi government announced that it would begin sharing “security and intelligence” information with Russia, Syria and Iran to help combat ISIS.
Meanwhile, intelligence sources told Fox News Friday that Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani met with Russian military commanders in Baghdad September 22. Fox News reported earlier this month that Soleimani met Putin in Moscow over the summer to discuss a joint military plan in Syria.
“The Russians are no longer advising, but co-leading the war in Syria,” one intelligence official said at the time.
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.