A Russian defense official Saturday issued the first detailed report on damage inflicted on Islamic State after four days of airstrikes in Syria, claiming that Russian bombers have destroyed a command-and-control center of the extremist group near its stronghold in Raqqah.
“Accurate delivery of a concrete-piercing bomb BETAB-500 launched from a Su-34 aircraft near Raqqah destroyed a hardened command center of one of the illegal armed groups as well as an underground bunker with explosives and an ammunition depot,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the start of an air campaign against radical Islamist fighters in Syria on Wednesday, the Pentagon and other Western countries also trying to halt the advance of Islamic State have accused the Kremlin of targeting other rebel militias trying to depose Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Assad is the Kremlin’s most important ally in the Middle East and Putin has made no secret of his aim of preventing the Syrian leader from being driven from power by rebel groups, some of which are backed by the United States and its allies.
Russian warplanes reportedly have made 60 sorties over a three-day period, hitting 50 targets. The Russians have more than 50 aircraft in the Syrian theater, according to Russian news reports, with their air operations centered at the Syrian government’s Hmeymim base in northwest Latakia province
The statement on the results of Russian bombing raids carried out over the previous 24 hours appeared intended to make the case that the Kremlin’s involvement in the Syrian conflict is motivated by the same anti-terrorism objectives as the U.S.-led coalition that has been bombing the militants for more than a year.
“Russian air groups continue making precise attacks at the ISIL terrorists from the Hmeymim air base. Twenty-four hours a day UAVs [drones] are monitoring the situation in the ISIL activity areas,” Konashenkov said, using an alternative acronym for Islamic State, in his latest report on the Russian air campaign.
An airstrike in the Jisr al Shughur district of Idlib province in western Syria “eliminated storage bases for military hardware used by militants for preparation of terrorist attacks,” the defense spokesman said, adding that another bombing in the same neighborhood “completely destroyed depots with ammunition and equipment situated at the base.”
The first airstrikes made by Russia on Wednesday and Thursday were said by U.S. and other European defense officials to have targeted Syrian opposition fighters farther west than the Islamic State-held territory, which is generally around the eastern city of Raqqah and stretching east across the Iraqi border.
Russian officials and news media have rejected suggestions that the Kremlin wasn’t targeting Islamic State positions as “a war of disinformation” being waged against Moscow as it tries to eradicate the extremists that the U.S.-led air campaign has failed to contain.
Russian Col. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov was quoted by Interfax as saying that the airstrikes had led to “600 mercenaries abandoning their positions and trying to get to Europe.” He said American officials were told to evacuate any advisors and Syrian rebels “being trained at the expense of American taxpayers” from areas being struck and were told that “there was nobody in the area other than terrorists.”
“We will not only continue our airstrikes but will increase their intensity,” he said.
Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.
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