by Molly McKitterick VOA
Russia’s decision to begin airstrikes in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “is tantamount to pouring gasoline on the fire” of the Middle East country’s four-year civil war, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday.
Russia has begun bombing near the western Syrian city of Homs, U.S. defense officials say.
In an afternoon news conference, the Pentagon chief reiterated that the United States would continue to lead coalition airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, ignoring Russia’s request for U.S. aircraft to avoid that airspace.
Russia began bombing attacks Wednesday in support of the Syrian government.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said a Russian general in Baghdad had given U.S. Embassy personnel short notice earlier in the morning of the planned strikes in Syria against Islamic State targets.
“The U.S.-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL,” Kirby said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
Carter on Tuesday had directed the Pentagon staff to communicate with Russia about coalition activity in Syria, to avoid any mistaken encounter between coalition and Russian forces there, a Pentagon spokesman said.
A Syrian activist also told VOA of suspicious activity.
“Today, Russian planes conducted a series of airstrikes around the suburbs of Homs city,” Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat and co-founder of the Syrian activist group People Demand Change, wrote in an email. “They targeted ONLY opposition-held areas of Homs and Hama provinces.”
The actist claimed 32 civilian deaths and six casualties among opposition forces.
The Pentagon source said U.S. pilots were not in danger, because they were flying in other airspace, over Islamic State hotbeds. The coalition struck at Aleppo on Wednesday.