US officials: Russia is not striking ISIS targets in Syria

US officials: Russia is not striking ISIS targets in Syria
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Russian airstrikes in Syria are not hitting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets as Moscow claims, U.S. defense officials said Thursday as the bombing campaign entered a second day. 

"Where those strikes occurred, those were not anti-ISIS strikes," Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, told defense reporters at a breakfast roundtable.

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Moscow began airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday after building up military equipment there in recent weeks. Russian officials say Moscow is assisting its Middle East ally in its fight against ISIS, but U.S. officials are concerned that the strikes are aimed at rebel groups opposing the regime, including those backed by the U.S. 

Russian officials insisted they hit ISIS targets in Idlib, Hama and Homs, but other U.S. defense officials said that was untrue. 

"The Russians were very clear publicly that they were going to strike ISIL," Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren , using an alternate name for ISIS. "We don't believe that they struck ISIL targets." 

Warren said he did not want to get into what targets Russia is hitting but said, "Where they struck yesterday, we don't believe there were any ISIL there." 

A U.S. official also told The Hill on background, "They appear to be targeting Syrian opposition, definitely not ISIL."

A pro-Syrian regime news channel said the new Russian strikes on Thursday hit a coalition of insurgent groups that includes the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, a hard-line Islamist group and a range of other Islamist groups, according to The New York Times. 

Otto said Russia was using weapons that could cause a lot of damage beyond the intended targets.  

"Those aren't precision weapons, those are dumb guided bombs," he said.

He said the results of Russia's Wednesday strikes were "representative of what you'd expect from dumb bombs being dropped from airplanes at medium altitude, which was not that impressive."

U.S. officials are also concerned the airstrikes would worsen the humanitarian crisis by killing civilians and prolong the war by bolstering Syrian President Bashar Assad, despite U.S. calls for him to go. 

A British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the Russian strikes had killed 30 civilians, including six children and six women. 

 

-- Updated at 4:54 p.m. ET