Russia strikes Syria with Iran-based bomber jets
AFP photoRussian warplanes on Aug. 16 flew a bombing run from an Iranian airstrip against jihadist groups in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said, marking the first time Moscow has reported using an Iranian air base.
“On Aug. 16 Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 frontline bombers, flying with a full bomb load from the Hamedan air base [in the Islamic Republic of Iran], conducted a group air strike against targets of the Islamic State [of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)] and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groups in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Idlib,” the ministry said in a statement, according to AFP.
The strikes resulted in the destruction of “five large warehouses with weapons, ammunition and fuel” and jihadist training camps near Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor, the village of Saraqeb in the Idlib region and al-Bab, an ISIL-held town in Aleppo province, the statement said.
The bombing also targeted three command centers near the village of Jafra and Deir ez-Zor, killing “a large number of fighters,” Moscow added.
Conducting its bombing raids from Iran will dramatically cut the time it takes Moscow’s long-range bombers to reach Syria. They had recently been flying from a base in southern Russia.
Moscow has used warplanes stationed at its Hmeimim airbase outside the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, as well as warships stationed in the Caspian Sea and a submarine in the Mediterranean Sea to launch cruise missile attacks on Syrian territory.
A Russian senator last week said the country was mulling plans to expand its airbase in Syria into a permanent military facility.
An unnamed military source also told Interfax news agency Aug. 15 that the Russian army had sent requests to Iran and Iraq to fire cruise missiles across their airspace.
Iran’s constitution, ratified after its 1979 Islamic Revolution, bans the establishment of any foreign military base in the country. However, nothing bars Iranian officials from allowing foreign countries to use an airfield.
In Tehran, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as saying on Aug. 16 that Tehran and Moscow had exchanged “capacity and possibilities” in the fight against ISIL, according to the Associated Press.
“With constructive and extended cooperation between Iran, Russia and Syria and the resistance front [Hezbollah], the situation has become very tough for terrorists and the trend will continue until the complete destruction of them,” Shamkhahi said.
Iran and Russia are the two firmest backers of the al-Assad regime and have opposed international calls for the Syrian leader to step down in a bid to resolve a civil war that has killed more than 290,000 people since it erupted in March 2011.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was in Tehran on Aug. 15, where he discussed the “high mutual interest” of deeper cooperation between Russia and Iran in the Middle East, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed separately in comments aired Aug. 15 that Russia and the United States were also close to joining forces around Syria’s ravaged second city of Aleppo, where Russian planes and regime forces are battling rebels for control.
Shoigu said in remarks carried Aug. 15 by Rossiya 24 television that “step by step, we are nearing an arrangement. I’m talking exclusively about Aleppo, that would allow us to find common ground and start fighting together for bringing peace to that territory, that long-suffering land so that people can return to their homes.”
But in Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau refused to confirm any collaboration.
“We do speak regularly with Russian officials about way to strengthen the cessation of hostilities, improve humanitarian access and bring about conditions necessary to find a political solution,” Trudeau told reporters in Washington.
A senior Russian diplomat in Geneva, Alexei Borodavkin, told Interfax Aug. 15 that the Russian and American militaries were in the process of “agreeing some concrete practical issues” regarding humanitarian aid deliveries to the city.
Meanwhile, air raids on two rebel-held districts in Aleppo on Aug. 16 killed 19 civilians, including three children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It said the strikes were carried out by either Russian or regime aircraft and that dozens of people were also wounded, some of them critically, in the Tariq al-Bab and al-Sakhur neighborhoods.
The Britain-based observatory also said 12 rebels were killed in Russian air strikes Aug. 16 targeting a convoy of anti-regime fighters on the city’s southern outskirts.