The Russian Air Force hit 49 Islamic State targets as part of 36 missions over Syria carried out in the last 24 hours, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday. Hama, Idlib, Latakia, Damascus and Aleppo were among the regions hit, Reuters reported, amid U.S. criticism Russian jets were in Syria to prop up Syrian President Bashar Assad, not to attack the Islamic State.
Russian fighter jets began bombing Syria in late September, with Russia maintaining the strikes are meant to destroy the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL. The U.S. and its allies have accused Russian aircraft of bombing Syrian rebels, who are in many cases backed by the West. Now, U.S. intelligence sources tell CNN the strikes might not be doing much to help Assad keep his grip on power, anyway.
“Airpower alone is unlikely to turn the battlefied in Assad's favor. His army is depleted and demoralized,” an unnamed official said.
“While some tactical swings along the front lines may favor the regime in the near-term, pro-regime forces face significant challenges in loosening the opposition's grip on territory it has held for months, and in some cases years.”
President Obama said Friday the U.S. and Russia are no closer to an accord in Syria than they were a month ago when Russian jets entered Syrian airspace. The only place of agreement was on how to prevent accidental fire between U.S. and Russian jets, Obama said, but “there is no meeting of the minds in terms of strategy.” Obama has called for the removal of Assad since determining his regime used chemical weapons on the Syrian people.
It's unlikely Assad's presidency will survive through the nearly five-year-long civil war, U.S. sources told CNN, though his forces are now enduring pressure on all sides. Russian bombing has focused on pushing back those ground forces, particularly from outside Damascus.
“Russia, the United States and all other states that have a stake in seeing peace in this region and in Syria, and a strong government, too, should be discussing precisely political issues,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told Russian media outlets Saturday, as quoted by Reuters. “It really does not matter who will be at the helm. We don't want ISIS to run Syria, do we? It should be a civilized and legitimate government. This is what we need to discuss.”