John Kerry: We're prepared to welcome Russian involvement in Syria if they target ISIS and Al Qaeda

“We would have grave concerns,” he added, “should Russia strike areas where ISIL- and Al-Qaeda-affiliated targets are not operating.”

New from the AFP: Russia is striking areas where ISIS and Al Qaeda aren’t operating.


Russia’s air strikes in Syria on Wednesday targeted opposition forces and not Islamic State jihadists, a US defense official said, contradicting Russian claims.

“We have not seen any strikes against ISIL, what we have seen is strikes against Syrian opposition,” the official said, referring to the Islamic State group…

Russian warplanes carried out strikes in Homs province, US officials said, while a Syrian security source and state media said Hama province was also hit.

There’s no ISIS presence in Homs but there are other anti-Assad factions — some backed by the United States:

These planes are hitting areas where Free Syrian Army and other anti-Assad groups are located, the official said.

Activists and a rebel commander on the ground said the Russian airstrikes have mostly hit moderate rebel positions and civilians. In a video released by the U.S.-backed rebel group Tajamu Alezzah, jets are seen hitting a building claimed to be a location of the group in the town of Latamna in the central Hama province.

That’s the same strategy Assad himself has followed — focus on the “moderate” rebels first because they’re the ones who are most broadly acceptable to foreign powers as a potential replacement for the Assad regime. As long as ISIS is alive and well, the argument will be made that Assad needs to be kept in place as a counterweight. In which case why would Russia, Assad’s chief non-Iranian sponsor, want to target ISIS? Better to bomb America’s proxies and force Obama to grudgingly accept that Assad is the best hope of keeping the jihadis at bay. (Russia’s rationale for targeting the Free Syrian Army, incidentally, is that they’ve secretly joined ISIS so it’s okay to go ahead and target them.)


When Josh Earnest was asked at today’s briefing whom Russia is targeting inside Syria, he said he, er, didn’t know, which is his way of buying time while the White House figures out how to protect its proxies and make sure the U.S. Air Force doesn’t end up smashing into Russian jets while they’re on their as-yet-uncoordinated bombing runs. One possibility if Obama wants to play hardball is to bomb one of Assad’s own assets every time Putin targets an anti-Assad outfit that isn’t ISIS. But that’s risky for various reasons: For one thing, ISIS would be the ultimate beneficiaries of weakening Assad, and for another it could quickly blossom into a de facto air war between the U.S. and Russia with each side hitting the other’s proxies. And that war wouldn’t be as easy to win as you think. Per David Axe, a suspiciously high number of Russian planes and missiles inside Syria right now are designed to counter a sophisticated air power like the United States, not a ragtag infantry like ISIS.

It’s obvious why Russia, China, and India, among other countries, would deploy Su-30s to counter heavily armed enemies possessing high-tech fighters of their own. But that doesn’t explain the Russian Su-30s in Syria. “I have not seen [ISIS] flying any airplanes that require sophisticated air-to-air capabilities,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the military head of NATO, told an audience in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 28…

Breedlove said he suspects Russia is trying to set up what the military calls a “anti-access, area-denial,” or A2AD, zone in western Syria. Moscow has recently established these zones in the Baltic region and in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. “We are a little worried about another A2AD bubble being created in the eastern Mediterranean,” Breedlove said.

The point of these zones is to give Russia exclusive access to strategic regions, Breedlove claimed. In the case of western Syria, an A2AD zone helps to ensure that Moscow can send forces into the eastern Mediterranean, which NATO has dominated since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.


Russia wants to protect its Mediterranean naval base in Tartus and guaranteeing Assad’s survival is the surest way to do that. So they’re setting up a de facto no-fly zone in the Shiite-dominated western parts of the country — and based on the weaponry involved, they intend to enforce it. At the very least, even if Assad’s forces crumble in the eastern part of Syria, Russia’s build-up in the west might be able to guarantee a partition of the country between the Alawite territories, which include Tartus, and Sunni Jihadistan. Beyond that strategic goal, though, it’s not all that clear what Putin wants in Syria. As one Russian analyst put it, “To quote Napoleon, engage and then we’ll see.” One obvious benefit of ramping up the war is that it’ll make the refugee crisis worse, which will indirectly punish the German-led EU with whom Putin’s now competing for hegemony in eastern Europe. Another is that, by taking the lead in Syria, Putin demonstrates to America’s allies in Europe, Israel, and in the Sunni countries of the Middle East that they’re foolish to side with Obama when he’s constantly being outmaneuvered.

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