A large majority of Russia’s military strikes in Syria have not been aimed at the Islamic State group or jihadists tied to al-Qaeda, and have instead targeted the moderate Syrian opposition, the State Department said Wednesday.
“Greater than 90 percent of the strikes that we’ve seen them take to date have not been against ISIL or al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.
“They’ve been largely against opposition groups that want a better future for Syria and don’t want to see the Assad regime stay in power.”
It was the first time that American authorities have offered any specific figures about the impact of Russian air strikes in the war-torn country.
The accusation came as Moscow — which says it is going after “terrorist groups,” including IS — ramped up its bombardments in Syria.
Washington, which supports the moderate Syrian opposition, has consistently said that the Russian action will only add more fuel to the fire and will benefit the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“So whether they’re hit by a cruise missile from sea or a bomb from a Russian military aircraft, the result is the same, that Assad continues to get support from Russia,” added Kirby.
“Assad continues to be able to have at his, you know, at his hands the capability of striking his own people, including those who are opposed to his regime,” he said.
“And that’s not a good future for Syria. It’s also, as we’ve said before, we believe a mistake for Russia, because not only are they going to be exacerbating sectarian tensions there in Syria, but they’re potentially exacerbating sectarian tensions in Russia itself.
“They’re putting themselves at greater risk.”