And there’s nothing we will do about it, apparently. Fox reported this morning that a source within the government says Russia isn’t just inadvertently hitting US-backed forces in Syria, but are deliberately targeting our partners in an attempt to shore up Bashar al-Assad. While Moscow comes to the rescue of Iran’s client dictator, our nominal allies in this fight are getting wiped out:
The claim comes as the U.S. and Russian militaries try to reach an agreement about flight safety in the skies over Syria. Officials from both countries are holding their third videoconference on the issue Wednesday, as U.S.-led coalition and Russian aircraft look to avoid collisions as they launch airstrikes into Syria.
But even as they try to “de-conflict,” evidence is mounting that Russia’s air campaign is targeting more than just the Islamic State.
“Putin is deliberately targeting our forces,” a U.S. official, who is disappointed in the U.S. response to Russia, told Fox News.
“Our guys are fighting for their lives,” said the official, estimating up to 150 CIA-trained moderate rebels have been killed by the Russians.
After setting up our “Free Syrian Army” partners in harm’s way with this Russian offensive, they can trust us to force Moscow to back off — or at least try. Right? Er … not exactly:
Vladimir Putin’s blaming this on “mush-for-brains” American officials:
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia criticized the United States and others on Tuesday for what he said was their lack of cooperation with the Russian military campaign in Syria, suggesting that they had “mush for brains.”
Mr. Putin was responding to widespread accusations in the West that Russian warplanes were targeting practically every group opposed to the Syrian government except the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. He complained that while the Russian government had asked for the coordinates of the groups that should or should not be attacked, the United States had not responded to either request.
“Recently, we have offered the Americans: ‘Give us objects that we shouldn’t target.’ Again, no answer,” he said. “It seems to me that some of our partners have mush for brains.”
Gee, I wonder who he could mean? The White House has little to say about Putin’s claims, although the New York Times reports that the Obama administration is hesitant to coordinate with Russia lest we lose credibility with our allies among the rebels. It must be better to have them bombed anyway, it seems.
Here’s Josh Earnest’s full insistence that nothing will get in the way of the US-Russian partnership against ISIS/ISIL, even when it doesn’t actually exist:
Q I wanted to ask you about Syria. How fearful is the White House that the conflict there is turning into some sort of a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia, given that both sides are providing different rebel groups with weapons, and a lot of these groups are on different sides of the conflict?
MR. EARNEST: Darlene, I think the President was fairly definitive in the news conference that he did 10 or 12 days ago in which he made clear that the conflict in Syria would not turn into a proxy war between the United States and Russia. That is a firm commitment that the President has made, and that’s something that we will abide by.
The reason for that — there are a couple of reasons for that. The first is that we would welcome Russia’s constructive contribution to the broader international coalition that’s been formed to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. Russia has declined to make that constructive contribution thus far. But that continues to be something that we’re open to.
Secondly, the efforts of our international coalition that was built and led by the United States is one that is focused on ISIL. This is a multi-pronged strategy focused on degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL. Russia claims to share that goal. Thus far, we believe that they’ve pursued a strategy that actually undermines the effective pursuit of that goal. But we would welcome a change in their strategy to more effectively accomplish that goal that they have claimed to set out for themselves.
The final thing is that the President’s top priority when it comes to confronting a very difficult situation in Syria is the safety and security of the American people. And that is why there are any number of military strikes that the President has ordered against extremists operating inside of Syria. In some cases, these are ISIL extremists. In some cases, these are extremists not affiliated with ISIL but yet leading extremist organizations, trying to capitalize on the chaos in Syria to plan and execute terror attacks against the United States and our interests around the world.
And that is the focus of our efforts there, and there certainly is ample rhetoric that we see from Republican critics essentially goading the President to try to engage in a proxy war with Russia. They say that ostensibly because they think maybe that it makes them look tough, but I think they would have a very difficult time articulating why that would be in the clear national security interest of the United States of America.
Q Being committed to something is one thing. How do you — and I understand that you say that he’s committed to keeping it from becoming a proxy war, but how do you actually prevent it from turning into that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think by ensuring that our efforts are focused on ISIL. And there is a multifaceted strategy that we have put forward to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and it is countering ISIL that is the focal point of our efforts inside of Syria right now. We’re hopeful that that will also lead to the kind of political transition that would reduce the level of chaos inside of Syria. Countering Russia’s involvement in Syria doesn’t rate nearly as high on the scale.
That much is obvious. It doesn’t matter that Russia has shown little interest in actually attacking ISIS, or at least not much interest in it as a priority unless it comes to protecting Assad. It doesn’t matter that the attacks on other rebel groups in Syria has allowed ISIS to actually expand its operations, and that Aleppo is ready to fall into their hands as a result. It doesn’t even matter, apparently, that the Russians went out of their way to humiliate the US by leaking video of the “deconfliction” summit. All that matters is that Russia has told Obama that they’ll get around to attacking ISIS so Obama doesn’t have to do any more than necessary.
Our putative partners in Syria have learned a hard lesson about Obama and “smart power” from the US. Our allies in the region are learning it too. Don’t be surprised when they start ignoring American leadership and align themselves with Moscow instead.