Russia bombs ISIS —not!

Russia launched its first air-strikes in Syria today. CNN informs us that the Russian Defense Ministry said warplanes targeted eight ISIS positions, "including arms, transportation, communications and control positions." But US Defense Secretary Ash Carter isn't buying it. "I want to be careful about confirming information, but it does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces," he told reporters. Carter is actually hedging his bets here. You don't have to have the Defense Intelligence Agency at your disposal to figure out that Russia is lying. The Institute for the Study of War notes that the first air-strikes were in Talbisah, north of Homs—controlled by the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham. As Vox points out, this is some 100 miles from the nearest ISIS-controlled territory. In fact, it is in a pocket of rebel-held territory just outside regime-controlled Homs. So the Russian aim is pretty clearly not to fight ISIS but to prop up the Bashar Assad dictatorship. Syria's state news agency SANA said the Russian strikes hit "ISIS dens in al-Rastan, Talbeisa, al-Zaafran, al-Tolol al-Humr, Aydon, Deir Fol and the area surrounding Salmia…" But these are all in Homs and Hama governorates—again, nowhere near ISIS territory to the north and east. Do the Russian Defense Ministry and SANA think we are incapable of looking at maps?

And these rebel forces that Russia bombed are actually hostile to ISIS. Is SANA just using "ISIS" as a cynical short-hand for any rebel forces?

The ISW also finds that the 33 reported casualties in Talbisah were all civilians. The Linux Beach blog, which doggedly covers the Syria conflict, notes with chagrin that Amy Goodman's Democracy Now, which presumes to call itself the "War & Peace Report," had absolutely nothing to say about the Russian air-strikes today. But Linux Beach does post horrific Twitter photos of mangled children said to be casualties of the Russian strikes.

Yesterday, Democracy Now "reported" on Putin's UN meeting with Obama with the jaundiced headline "Will Regime Change in Syria Further Destabilize War-Torn Nation?"—as if Assad's ongoing genocide against the Syrian people is not what has given rise to jihadism in Syria in the first place. Of course, no Syrians are interviewed. Instead, Goodman gives the mic to Vijay Prashad, who tells us that the slogan "Assad must go" is "anachronistic" because Assad is "deeply weakened" today. Tell that to the folks getting bombed by regime warplanes in Aleppo and Ghouta, Vijay. And now the folks getting bombed by Assad's Russian friends in al-Rastan and Talbisah.

We can understand Ash Carter's equivocation. He has to parse his words to avoid unduly antagonizing Moscow, and of course the US has also bombed the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. But what explains the silence and denialism on the "anti-war" (sic) left?

    1. Amy Goodman petitioned to give Syrians a voice

      A most welcome petition on notes that on April 25, Democracy Now (again!) featured an entire show with Seymour Hersh, who applauded Russia's intervention in Syria and called it "effective"—though Russia has killed at least 2,000 Syrian civilians and bombed multiple hospitals. The petition notes Amy's predilection for white talking heads to prognosticate on Syria, and calls for her to actually invite some Syrians on to her show. Especially suggested are Leila al-Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab, authors of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, newly released from Pluto Press.

  1. More prevarication on Russian air-strikes

    Russia has practically admitted that it is playing fast and loose with the deiniiton of "ISIS," with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying: "If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it's a terrorist, right?" (CNN) The White House meanwhile charged that the Russian air-strikes have been "indiscriminate." In any case, this map on the BBC indicates that targets in the second day of air-strikes have continued to be in Syria's west—nowhere near ISIS territory.

  2. Russia finally hits ISIS targets

    A map provided by the New York Times indicates that Russia finally did hit ISIS targets in the Raqqa area today—but carried out far more strikes on rebel-held territory in Syria's West. Two of today's seven Russian air-strikes were in ISIS territory.

  3. Russia bombs hospitals too

    At least seven hospitals or medical facilities in Syria have been hit by airstrikes since Russia entered the civil war there, killing at least four people, according to an international human rights group and Syrian relief workers. The latest strikes occurred Tuesday, when warplanes struck the town of Sarmin, in Idlib Province, killing a physiotherapist and a guard at the local field hospital administered by the Syrian American Medical Society, the society said in a statement. (NYT, Oct. 22)

    1. Assad bombs hospitals too (of course)

      Air strikes in northern Syria have hit at least 12 hospitals in recent weeks, killing at least 35 patients and medical staff, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres. (Reuters) This probably includes both Russian and regime air-strikes.

    2. Syria: at least 70 killed in air-strike on marketplace

      At least 70 people were killed and 550 wounded in air-strikes on a marketplace in a rebel-held area east of the Syrian capital Damascus, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Oct. 31. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had announced a death toll of at least 59, including five children, in the attacks on Douma. Douma is in Eastern Ghouta, the largest opposition stronghold in Damascus governorate. Also that day, 32 civilians, among them 12 children, were killed in air-strikes on opposition-held areas of Syria's second city Aleppo, the Observatory said (Reuters)

    3. Another day, another hospital bombed

      A hospital supported by Médecins Sans Frontières in Homs was partially destroyed in a "barrel bombing" by the Syrian air force. The strikes on the hospital in Zafarana, a besieged town in northern Homs, killed seven people including a young girl, MSF said in a statement, and prompted the movement to nearby field hospitals of many wounded, some of whom died on the way. (The Guardian)