Russian warplanes have conducted their first air strikes in Syria, Russia’s defense ministry said adding that the jets targeted Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, according to AFP.
A Syrian security source said the warplanes hit three Syrian provinces along with regime aircraft on Wednesday, AFP reported.
He added “Russian and Syrian airplanes carried out numerous strikes today against terrorist positions in Hama, Homs and Latakia provinces.”
Syrian rebels hit by Russian airstrikes
However, a U.S. official told Reuters the Russian sorties so far did not appear to be targeting ISIS-held territory.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Russia was carrying out strikes in the vicinity of Homs and perhaps other areas in Syria as well, noting that all U.S. information on Russian activity was still preliminary.
Areas of the Syrian province of Homs struck in Russian air strikes on Wednesday are controlled by an array of rebel groups including several operating under the banner of the “Free Syrian Army”, activists, locals and rebels said.
None of the sources named ISIS as one of the groups operating in the areas hit on Wednesday.
Additionally, a French diplomatic source told Reuters that the Russian strikes appear to target Syrian opposition, not ISIS.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow must act preemptively to destroy militants in Syria before they present a threat closer to home.
“The only correct way to fight international terrorism…. is to act preemptively, to battle and destroy fighters and terrorists on the territories they have already seized, not to wait for them to come to us,” Putin said in televised comments
Russia cautioned the United States to clear Syrian airspace ahead of the strikes, the U.S. official said, adding, however, that the U.S.-led coalition was “continuing to fly missions in Syria.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the upper house of the Russian parliament had given Putin approval to use the country’s air force in Syria, according to state media.
“The Federation Council unanimously supported the President’s request – 162 votes in favor of granting permission,” Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergey Ivanov said, according to ITAR-Tass.
The vote came after a request by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for military assistance in fighting ISIS, Ivanov said.