Russia has ramped up its air war in Syria—big time. And it’s starting to show. Relentless and indiscriminate, Moscow’s bombing runs have devastated military and civilian strongholds and cleared a path for Syrian regime forces to counterattack against ISIS militants and rebels.
Five months after the first Russian warplanes slipped into Syria to reinforce the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Kremlin’s air wing near Latakia—on Syria’s Mediterranean coast in the heart of regime territory—has found its rhythm, launching roughly one air strike every 20 minutes targeting Islamic State militants, U.S.-backed rebels and civilians in rebel-controlled areas.
“From Feb. 10 to 16, aircraft of the Russian aviation group in the Syrian Arab Republic have performed 444 combat sorties engaging 1,593 terrorist objects in the provinces of Deir Ez Zor, Daraa, Homs, Hama, Latakia and Aleppo,” the Russian defense ministry claimed in a statement.
That’s double the rate of air strikes that the much larger U.S.-led coalition has managed to sustain in its own, much older campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Leave out the coalition airstrikes in Iraq, where there are no Russian forces, and the disparity appears even greater. While lately Russia has launched around 60 air raids every day in Syria, the U.S. and its allies have pulled off just seven, on average, since launching their first attacks in Syria in September 2014.
To be fair, the coalition’s daily pace of air strikes fluctuates. On Feb. 21, U.S. and allied planes launched 14 attacks in Syria—a high-than-average number, but still far fewer raids than Russia launched every day in mid-February.
The air-power gap is plainly evident on the battlefield. With Russian jets providing cover, regime ground forces are steadily pushing back against ISIS and rebel fighters in western and north-central Syria. In late January, regime troops captured from rebels the town of Sheikh Miskeen, which lies between the Jordanian border and Damascus and was a key crossroads in the rebels’ supply network.
The regime has also begun chipping away at ISIS defenses surrounding the ancient city of Palmyra.
But civilians have borne the brunt of the Russian-incurred devastation. The Violations Documentation Center, which monitors attacks on Syrian civilians, told Al Jazeera that at least 1,458 civilians including 346 children died in Russian air strikes between September and late January.
For its part, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 1,015 civilians had died in five months of Russian air raids, including 238 children.
SOURCE: DAVID AXE
The Daily Beast