Obama envoy: 70 percent of Russian strikes don't hit ISIS

Obama envoy: 70 percent of Russian strikes don't hit ISIS
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President Obama's envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria says that Russian airstrikes are overwhelmingly targeting Syrian opposition groups.

“It’s a huge problem,” State Department official Brett McGurk said before a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

“They say they want to fight ISIL and al-Nusra but they are hitting groups that are ready to fight ISIL," he said using an alternate name for the Islamic State.

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"This is where we just have to be honest. 70 percent of their airstrikes are against the opposition and many of those opposition groups are ready to fight ISIL.”

Russian forces have launched an air campaign in Syria. But while Moscow claims they are targeting ISIS, the U.S. and allies say the strikes are intended to prop up the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

U.S. officials have stepped up their condemnation of the Russian strikes and blame them for a delay in the Syrian peace talks. McGurk’s testimony comes a week after it was announced that the peace talks would be paused until Feb. 25.

Russian strikes have also aided Assad's forces as they encircle Aleppo, the country’s most populous urban area.

McGurk said Russian airstrikes also “have helped ISIL” in “very strategic locations such as the Mara line north of Aleppo.”

The envoy also said that the threat from ISIS would remain as long as Assad is in power.

“As long as Assad is in power there will never be a stable Syria,” McGurk said. “We have to find a way to have a political transition.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) disagreed with McGurk's focus.

“Our question shouldn’t be how we should get rid of Assad,” Rohrabacher said. “Our question should be how do we get rid of ISIL.”

McGurk defended the administration's progress, saying ISIS had lost ground. He said the terror group has not had a major battlefield victory since May 2015 and that more than 40 percent of ISIS-controlled territory has been recovered in Iraq.

Rep. Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeCook shifts two House GOP seats closer to Dem column Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs Five Republican run-offs to watch in Texas MORE (R-Texas) pressed McGurk on other strategies for defeating ISIS, but the envoy said the current plan was working.

“In terms of strategy, we are going to suffocate this network every which way,” McGurk said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing across the board. In Iraq and Syria we are working to take away territory.”