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|Putin Says Russia's Campaign in Syria More Effective Than U.S.
by Jake Rudnitsky and Stepan Kravchenko
Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his air and cruise-missile strikes on terror targets in Syria as two Saudi Arabian officials softened their government’s position on the fate of Bashar al-Assad.
Putin discussed his Syria campaign on Sunday with Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister Mohammed Bin Salman, who signaled a willingness to let al-Assad remain in power longer, while the foreign ministers of both nations also met to consider the situation in Syria.
Putin’s bombing campaign to support his ally Assad took the U.S. and NATO by surprise and overshadowed a flurry of diplomacy over how to tackle the conflict. As Russia builds up its military presence in Assad’s stronghold on the eastern Mediterranean Sea, U.S. President Barack Obama dismissed any notion that his leadership on the world stage was being challenged.
Now Russia is leading the diplomatic charge, with Putin in bilateral meetings with Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed, who were in Sochi in southern Russia, site of a Formula 1 auto race. Putin again called for a political resolution emanating from Assad’s government.
Later in the day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Saudi counterpart, Adel Al-Jubeir, who said through a translator that Assad must depart after a political transition. Previously, the kingdom’s position was that Assad’s departure was a precondition to any settlement.
“This transitional government must develop principles for the implementation of reforms, develop a constitution, and of course, as a result that will lead to the resignation of Bashar Assad,” Al-Jubeir said.
In a Sept. 30 interview in the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper, Al-Jubeir said discussions were focused on “Assad’s fate during the transitional period, whether he will leave power at its outset or stays in Syria without any authority or privileges.”
The Obama administration last week abandoned its attempt to build and train a rebel force in Syria to take on Islamic State. The U.S. will instead focus on equipping selected leaders and providing air support to their units, including Arab and Kurdish groups in Syria.
Putin said the Russian air campaign was already more effective than discontinued U.S. efforts to support some militant groups.
“It would have been better to give us $500 million,” Putin said of the aborted U.S. program to fund the Free Syrian Army. “At least we would have used it more effectively from the point of view of fighting international terrorism.”
Speaking in an interview with state-run television channel Rossiya 1 broadcast on Sunday, Putin said Russia’s involvement was legal and reasonable because it followed a Syrian request for assistance. He questioned whether the U.S. had lived up to either of those standards.
“The simplest solution for them would be to join us and, in that way, legalize their actions on Syrian territory,” Putin said of the U.S.
While the U.S. and Russia say they agree on a need to counter Islamic State, U.S. officials say that most Russian strikes have targeted Assad opponents other than Islamic State, including some supported by the U.S. and its allies.
Putin reiterated that Russia will not send ground troops to Syria and said he does not seek to stoke religious tensions in the Middle East. Russian strikes, which have included missiles launched from the Caspian Sea, are intended to stabilize the legitimate authorities, he said.
Moscow Demands Britain Explain "Green Light To Shoot Down Russian Jets"
by Tyler Durden
The chances of escalation from a proxy war to outright war just went to 11 on the Spinal Tap amplifier of sabre-rattling. A day after British and NATO pilots were reportedly given the green light to take drastic action against Russian fighter jets if they come under threat during missions over Iraq, Interfax reports that the Russian Defense Ministry has demanded clarification. Senior defence sources say it is just a matter of time before our fighters are involved in a deadly confrontation with Russian jets.
The Chinese, it appears, are wholeheartedly behind Putin's efforts, judging by the following puff-piece from Xinhua (unofficially China's government mouthpiece)...
Russia's recent military intervention in the Syrian war in the form of airstrikes and missile attacks aimed both at supporting the government of President Bashar Al-Assad in combatting the Islamic State (IS) has reaped initial gains.
Russia's bombing campaign in Syria, which began on Sept. 30, has strengthened the Syrian government, laying the foundation for a dialogue with all countries concerned to come up with solutions that could drag Syria out of the internal conflict that has lasted for more than four years.
According to Russia Today, Russia started its bombing campaign in Syria with a goal to provide air support to the government troops in fighting various terrorist groups, primarily the IS.
Russian air strikes hit 55 Islamic State group targets in Syria in the past 24 hours, the defense ministry said Saturday, as Moscow ramped up its military campaign in the war-torn country.
Russia's air force has attacked a total of 112 targets since the start of the military actions.
On Thursday, Syrian government troops launched large-scale ground offensives under the cover of Russia's repeated air strikes. At the same time, Russia launched 26 cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea and destroyed 11 IS targets.
Syrian political analyst Osama Dannura said Russia's involvement in the Syrian conflict has upset the initial planning of Western powers that have their minds bent on toppling the Assad government.
The West's strategic shortcomings were demonstrated by the disastrous 500 million-U.S.-dollar program to train and arm moderate rebels, which generated only a handful of fighters, many of whom surrendered or were captured almost immediately. The scheme was finally scrapped on Friday.
The reason why the U.S.-coalition has failed to deal a blow to the IS, according to Syrian political analyst Maher Ihsan, is a lack of offensives by ground troops. Besides, while attacking the IS, the United States is also offering the opposition rebels assistance including weapons, most of which end up into the hands of IS fighters.
In an interview with Iranian television broadcast on Sunday, al-Assad said a campaign of Western and Arab airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq and Syria has been counterproductive and terrorism has spread in terms of both territory and new recruits.
Around 40 percent of the IS infrastructure in Syria has been destroyed in just one week, Syria's Ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad said on Wednesday.
But the huge escalation in British and NATO rhetoric towards Russia - green-lighting direct conflict - has made the situation dramatically more dangerous...
British and Nato pilots have been told to take the drastic action if they are fired on by Vladimir Putin's air force during missions over Iraq.
The move comes after British ministers warned Russia had made the situation in the Middle East "much more dangerous".
Senior defence sources say it is just a matter of time before our fighters are involved in a deadly confrontation with Russian jets.
One source said: "We need to protect our pilots but at the same time we're taking a step closer to war. It will only take one plane to be shot down in an air-to-air battle and the whole landscape will change. "
RAF pilots have been told to avoid contact with Russian jets at all costs and both US and British mission control teams will do their best to keep them apart.
But the pilots have been warned they must be prepared to fire on Russian jets if their lives depend on it.
One source said: "No one knows what the Russians will do next. We do not know how they will respond if they come into contact with a Western jet.
"When planes are flying at supersonic speeds the airspace gets crowded very quickly. There could be a collision or a Russian pilot might be mistakenly shot down. "
And then, as Reuters reports,
Russia has asked the British defense attache in Moscow to clarify media reports that British pilots had been given permission to attack Russian jets if they are fired on whilst flying sorties over Iraq, Interfax news agency reported on Sunday.
The British attache said he would submit an official response in the near future, RIA news agency reported.
* * *
One wonders just how far US, NATO "leadership" are willing to go to 'expose' Putin's evil intent? Especially in light of China's official mouthpiece (Xinhua News) reporting the following...
"The Russians have shown a naval capacity that was not expected," said Thomas Gomart, head of the French Institute for Foreign Relations, adding that Russia is "challenging the West's aerial supremacy."
Moscow offered on Tuesday to resume talks with Washington to avoid any misunderstanding concerning its airstrike operation, as well as to discuss ways to avoid conflicts between the United States and Russian warplanes over Syria.
Washington also said on Saturday that it would resume talks with Moscow to avoid accidents in the skies over the war-torn country.
Intercepted ISIS comms show 'growing panic' after Russian airstrikes
Russian Air Forces have extended the range of their airstrikes on Islamic State positions in Syria to four provinces, focusing primarily on demolishing fortified installations and eliminating supply bases and the terrorists' infrastructure.
Over the last 24 hours Russian aircraft have attacked terrorist positions in the Hama, Idlib, Latakia and Raqqa provinces of Syria. In total, 64 sorties targeted 63 Islamic State installations, among them 53 fortified zones, 7 arms depots, 4 training camps and a command post.
The airstrikes were carried out by Sukhoi Su24M and Su-34 bombers and Su-25SM assault aircraft, with Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets ensuring air escort for the assault groups.
“Having accomplished combat assignments, all aircraft of the task force operating in Syria successfully returned to the Khmeimim airbase,” said the spokesperson for the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov.
Radio intercept data has revealed “growing panic” among Islamic State militants, according to Konashenkov. He added that IS field commanders have urged senior staff to expedite supply armament and military equipment, as well as to redeploy reinforcements from Raqqa province as a result of Russia’s air bombardment.
In the vicinity of the city of Saraqib in northwest Syria, an artillery position known for inflicting strikes on the nearby residential areas has been exposed and eliminated.
A group of Sukhoi Su-24M bombers attacked a terrorist field headquarters near the village of Salma in northwest Syria. This command post has been coordinating operations of the militants in whole of the Latakia province.
“A direct hit of a guided KAB-500 air bomb completely destroyed a building with militant commanders inside," the Defense Ministry’s spokesperson reported. “The airstrike also eliminated five SUVs with ZU-23 double-barreled 23mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on them that were parked nearby.”
A Sukhoi Su-24M bomber attacked a thoroughly concealed position of SUVs with mortar launchers mounted on them near the village of Kafer-Delba. As a result of the attack, a mobile sub-artillery battery consisting of four vehicles was eliminated.
Aerial reconnaissance discovered a stronghold of terrorists near the village of Achan. A pinpoint airstrike carried out by Su-24M aircraft eliminated the installation, along with an ammunition and logistics depot.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, also said that the Russian and American armed forces have held a second video conference regarding the operation in Syria. The two sides discussed in detail proposals voiced at the first such event and focused on issues of air security to be ensured by both sides, since both US and Russian aircraft are currently operating in Syria’s airspace.
The date for the next consultation is to be arranged later.
Russia steps up air strikes against Assad opponents in Syria
by Sylvia Westall and Jason Bush
Russia said on Saturday it had stepped up its bombing campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria, while local observers said several of the air strikes had hit areas in western Syria where the hardline group has little presence.
Russia, a top ally of President Bashar al-Assad, started bombing in Syria on Sept. 30 saying it was targeting Islamic State and other opposition groups, a campaign that has drawn Moscow deeper into Syria's more than four-year-old conflict.
Rebels on the ground and Western states have said Moscow's air campaign, which has been combined with ground attacks by pro-government forces, have mainly targeted rebel groups not associated with Islamic State, including U.S.-trained fighters.
Defense officials from the United States and Russia held a 90-minute video conference call on Saturday to discuss safe flight operations over Syria, according to the Pentagon, which is concerned that dueling bombing campaigns could lead to accidental clashes without the proper precautions.
Already, at least one U.S. warplane has had to change its route to avoid a close encounter with Russian planes, the Pentagon has said.
"The discussions were professional and focused narrowly on the implementation of specific safety procedures," the U.S. Department of Defense said in a statement released on Saturday. "Progress was made during the talks, and the U.S. agreed to another discussion with Russia in the near future."
A Russian defense ministry representative said on Saturday Russia had intensified its campaign in the last 24 hours, with 64 sorties hitting 55 targets, Russian news agencies reported.
The representative, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, described the targets hit as controlled by Islamic State, also referring to them as belonging to "militants" and "terrorists".
He said they included command and control centers, weapons depots and training bases, located in the Syrian provinces of Raqqa, Hama, Damascus and Aleppo.
The first of those provinces is in eastern Syria and the main Islamic State stronghold, while the other three are in Western Syria where the group is typically weak.
However, Islamic State militants have been advancing on Aleppo in recent days, seizing villages in the province from rival insurgents.
Konashenkov said one of the targets hit near Aleppo was a concealed base for military vehicles, which he said had received a direct hit from an Su-24M bomber.
More than ten vehicles had been destroyed, including two tanks and five infantry vehicles, he said in comments cited by Interfax.
Russian strikes hit northern areas of Latakia province, the coastal heartland of Assad's Alawite minority sect, as well as northern areas of Hama province further east, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
There was no immediate information on casualties.
The Observatory says Islamic State has no real presence in these areas. However, there were other militants in northern Syria, such as Chechens, that Russia might want to attack.
Syrian state television said in a newsflash that attacks carried out by government forces in the area had killed and wounded a number of "terrorists", a term it uses to describe all insurgents in Syria.
The Observatory said a large explosion hit a building on the outskirts of the town of al-Bab in northern Syria, which is held by Islamic State.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blast in the building, which Islamic State had used to store explosives, according to the British-based Observatory, which tracks the conflict using sources on the ground.
The Observatory also said Syrian government forces backed by militia had captured the village of Atshan from insurgent fighters in Hama province after Russian airstrikes in surrounding areas.
Atshan sits to the east of the north-south highway running through major western cities in Syria. Towns and villages around the road have been a focus of Russian air strikes.
Syrian state TV also said in a newsflash that the army had captured the village
Human Rights Watch said late on Friday that the first Russian air strikes on northern Homs last month killed at least 17 civilians and should be investigated for possible violations of the laws of war.
Russian President Vladmir Putin said earlier this month that reports of civilian deaths in Russian air strikes on Syria were an "information attack".
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Jason Bush; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by Ralph Boulton and W Simon)
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