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Russian Air Strikes In Syria Complicate A Very Messy War


Russia joined the combat in Syria without coordinating its approach with the United States. Now planes from both nations are bombing targets in Syria.


And it's characteristic of a tangled war that they are neither directly opposed nor on the same side. They share a reliance on air power, but not a common goal.

MONTAGNE: The U.S. has been striking ISIS. NPR's Tom Bowman reports the Russians appear to be bombing more than just ISIS.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: For more than a week, Russian drones made long circles in the skies of western Syria, searching for targets. And early yesterday, they began airstrikes.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Russian).

BOWMAN: That's a purported sound of a Russian pilot calling bombing coordinates. It was released by a Syrian rebel opposition group in the Hama countryside, saying it was intercepted. U.S. officials say the Russians likely bombed in that area and say there's greater evidence of Russian airstrikes farther south than Homs. Russian officials said they mounted a total of 20 airstrikes. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the Russian airstrikes were expected.


ASH CARTER: If you're asking me whether I was surprised at that, I'm not because they've been saying now for a couple of weeks they're going to do that. And as many in this room have reported, they had been accumulating the wherewithal to do it.

BOWMAN: Secretary Carter and others said there's no indication those airstrikes were hitting the self-proclaimed Islamic State, even though Russia said that was its plan. Instead, Russia was targeting rebels, U.S. officials say, who want to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally. Carter said that will only make things worse, prolong a civil war, drive more Syrians into the arms of ISIS. Russia told the U.S. on Wednesday to clear the skies in Syria so Russia could mount airstrikes. The U.S. ignored that request and soon hit a target in Aleppo, some 75 miles north of Hama. Again, Secretary Carter.


CARTER: We intend to continue our air operations unimpeded.

BOWMAN: The next step - Carter says Russia and the U.S. will hold talks, trying to prevent its pilots from making mistakes or miscalculations in the skies against each other. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.