Russian jets launch attacks in Syria; US questions who's being targeted – Los Angeles Times

Russian warplanes launched their first airstrikes Wednesday against opposition targets in  Syria, signaling a new and uncertain turn in the long conflict there.Russian officials said the attacks in support of President Bashar Assad’s government targeted positions of Islamic State, the Al Qaeda breakaway faction that has seized control of vast swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
However, Syrian opposition activists and some U.S. officials said the areas hit were in the hands of other rebel factions, including some fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, a loose grouping that has received aid from Washington and its allies.The rebel-held pocket north of the city of Homs struck by the Russian warplanes is also reportedly a stronghold for a number of hard-line Islamist militias, including Al Nusra Front, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and Ahrar al Sham, which also has Al Qaeda connections.In New York, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Washington would not object to Russian action targeting Islamic State or Al Qaeda-linked factions. But Washington would have “grave concerns,” Kerry said,  if the Russian strikes were aimed at other opposition groups.In a televised address, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russian forces were supporting the Syrian military “in its legitimate fight with terrorist groups.”The Syrian government routinely refers to all its armed opponents as “terrorists.” Washington maintains that moderate rebels with a democratic agenda are among the insurgents fighting to topple Assad.Syrian state media reported that Russian military planes, operating in cooperation with the Syrian air force, attacked seven areas housing Islamic State “dens” north of Homs, “achieving direct hits and inflicting heavy losses upon the terrorist organization.”U.S. officials seemed to view the Russian offensive as an effort to help sustain the besieged administration of Assad, Moscow’s longtime ally, whose forces are thinly stretched.“We are seeing the Russians ramp up their support for President Assad,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington. “It’s clear they’ve made a significant military investment now in further propping him up.”Moscow gave the United States advance notice of its intentions in Syria, Washington said.A Russian official in Baghdad informed U.S. Embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying missions Wednesday targeting …Read More