US defence chief says Russia ‘probably’ not targeting ISIS

US defence chief says air strikes conducted by Russian Air Force in Syria are ‘probably’ not targeting ISIS held areas

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

US Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon on September 30, 2015

Updated Oct 1, 2015

Russian air strikes in Syria on Wednesday “probably” did not target ISIS held areas, the United States Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter said in a response to the claims by the Russian Defence Ministry.

"It does appear (the strikes) were in areas where there were probably ISIL [ISIS] forces," Carter said.

However, the Russian Defence Ministry said its jets conducted 20 flights in Syria, targeting “eight ISIS targets”, including arms, transportation, communications and control positions.

Although Russia said it was striking ISIS militants, Carter said all evidence showed that ISIS was not the target of air strikes on Wednesday.

A senior official said that the Russian air strikes “has no strategic purpose” to fight ISIS, it “shows they are not there to go after ISIL [ISIS]” and the air strikes were carried out in support of Syrian President, Bashar al Assad.

Syrian political opposition figure, Khaled Khoja also said that the Russian air strikes on Wednesday did not target ISIS held areas. Khoja, the head of the Syrian National Coalition stated on his Twitter feed that "all the targets in today's Russian air strikes over northern Homs were civilians," Khoja, who is in New York to attend a United Nations General Assembly meeting, declared that 36 civilians had been killed in five different areas.

Activists, locals and rebels have also reported that the areas where Russia conducted air strikes is not controlled by ISIS.

Meanwhile, Carter accused Russia of inflaming the years-old civil conflict in Syria and said Russia’s military moves in the war-torn country was “doomed to fail”. He described Russia’s intervention into the conflict as “pouring gasoline on the fire”.

"The Russian approach here is doomed to fail," Carter said.

"I hope that they come over to a point of view where they try to pursue their objectives in a different way that makes more sense."

Russia has started carrying out air strikes in Syria around the city of Homs on Wednesday. Areas in the Homs province that were struck by the Russian Air Force are controlled by an array of rebel groups, including several operating under the banner of the "Free Syrian Army”. Syrian security sources and state media reported that Hama province was also hit.

Russia gave a warning to the US after the air strikes, but did not specify where they would be carried out. The Pentagon had warned Russian jets not to cross paths inadvertently and expressed the need of “de-confliction” to take part in coalition.

US Secretary of State, John Kerry said that US would welcome Russian military action in Syria as long as it was conducted against ISIS and Al Qaeda linked groups. He told the United Nations Security Council that US would have “grave concerns” if Russia carried out air strikes against other groups.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speak to the media after a meeting concerning Syria at the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 30, 2015

Military meeting on air strikes

The US and Russia will hold a military meeting on the air strikes soon to prevent incidents in Syria, US Secretary of State, John Kerry said on Wednesday, after talks with Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov said they “need to establish channels of communication to avoid any unintended incidents”.

"We agreed on the imperative of, as soon as possible -- perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, but as soon as possible -- having a military-to-military de-confliction discussion," Kerry told reporters during a joint appearance with Lavrov.

Kerry and Lavrov developed ideas in an attempt to push forward the political process.

Lavrov said, "We all want Syria to be democratic, united, secular. A Syria which is a home for all ethnic groups whose rights are guaranteed, but we have some differences as for the details on how to get there."

Both Lavrov and Kerry would present the proposals they discussed to their respective presidents and keep in touch as they work to resolve their differences.

"We will follow up on that for certain because we also agreed that it is imperative it find a solution and avoid escalating it in any way and seeing it intensified by forces beyond control," Kerry said.

Kerry added, "It's one thing to be targeting ISIS, but the concern, obviously, is that this is not what was happening."

The US has demanded Syrian President, Bashar al Assad to step down, while Russia is backing him to remain in power.

TRTWorld and agencies