Russia carried out its first air attacks against Islamic State targets in Syria, hitting arms and ammunition stores and transport and communication equipment, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said by phone. Syrian state-run TV cited an unnamed military source as saying Russian jets struck several Islamic State targets in Syria’s central Homs and Hama provinces. U.S. and French officials questioned whether Russia hadn’t instead targeted other opposition groups fighting Assad.
It’s the second time in as many years that Putin has sought and gained approval to use force abroad as he seeks to carve out a bigger role in global affairs. While his actions in Ukraine last year drew international condemnation, he pushed for a wider alliance to counter Islamic State during a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama this week.
“The main task is to fight terrorism and to support the legitimate government of Syria in the fight against terrorism and extremism,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters during a conference call. The Assad government had requested Russian military assistance, he said.
Putin won unanimous approval from legislators in the upper house of parliament to use Russian armed forces in Syria, Kremlin Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov said Wednesday on state television. Russia will use its air force — not ground troops — and the mission will be for a limited duration, Ivanov said, without specifying the duration. Strikes will target Islamic State, including several thousand Russians fighting for the militant group who could be a threat if they returned to their homeland, he said.
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