Russia’s power play in Syria left the Obama administration scrambling Wednesday, with the U.S. sending mixed messages on Moscow’s uncoordinated airstrikes in the civil war-torn nation.
The White House downplayed Russia’s decision to launch the strikes without coordinating with the United States, and the State Department said ahead of the strikes that Russian involvement in Syria could be an opportunity. But the Pentagon slammed the move and suggested Moscow’s backing for close ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — who appears to be losing his grip on power — will only inflame the war there and could set back the effort to drive out ISIS.
The differences raise questions about the precise nature of the U.S. strategy for countering ISIS in Syria, with Republicans criticizing the White House for ceding the ground to Russia even as some observers suggested that the United States was letting Russian President Vladimir Putin gain a toehold in order to ensnare him rather than American troops in the bloody conflict.
Russia gave the United States just one hour heads-up that it would be launching airstrikes in the western Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday morning and told U.S. aircraft — there to battle ISIS — that they needed to leave Syrian airspace.
The United States declined to do so, but having both air forces operating in the country raises the specter of military mishaps between the two powers. The United States had anticipated holding conversations with the Russian military on “deconfliction,” so that there wouldn’t be inadvertent overlap, but that expectation wasn’t met — though it appears military-to-military talks will be held as soon as Thursday.
Similarly, President Barack Obama received clarifications from Putin in a meeting Monday that the Russian strikes would target ISIS, as the U.S. desires, rather than go after the opposition forces fighting major Russian ally al-Assad. But that expectation also wasn’t borne out.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Wednesday that the Russian attacks, which the Kremlin said were meant to target terrorists, didn’t appear to hit targets under the control of ISIS, which operates in the north and east of the country.
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SOURCE: Kevin Liptak