When Russia announced it was going to use military force, including air power, in Syria, Moscow claimed it was doing so to fight the terrorist group ISIL. But the first Russian airstrikes in Syria, which began on September 30, have targeted territory in which few, if any, ISIL forces are operating.
Such strikes have raised concern around the world about Russia’s priorities in Syria: whether the Kremlin is, in fact, focused on defeating ISIL, or on protecting its long-time ally, Syria’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad.
In remarks at the United Nations, Secretary of State John Kerry emphasized that the United States and the coalition it is leading will continue its ongoing air operations, which have made significant inroads against ISIL:
“The coalition that we have built, more than 60 countries strong, has been taking on ISIL for more than a year – by liberating Sinjar Mountain, liberating Kobani, liberating Tikrit, where now more than 100,000 residents have been able to return to their homes and resume their lives; defending Mosul Dam, defending Haditha, protecting Baghdad, rescuing endangered minorities; killing ISIL leaders and facilitators, and taking away the entire northern border of Syria for ISIL, east of the Euphrates River.”
At the same time, Secretary Kerry noted, the U.S. has mounted a comprehensive campaign to cut terrorist financing, curb recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters, and expose the lies that ISIL is perpetrating. And there is more:
“Today, as we speak, south of Kirkuk, Kurdish Peshmerga are heroically liberating villages from ISIL under the cover of coalition airstrikes. In addition, we continue to admire the courage and the reliance that has been demonstrated for four long years of struggle by the legitimate opposition to Assad.”
Russia has argued that Assad must be supported in order to defeat ISIL. But Secretary Kerry noted that as ISIL made inroads through large swathes of Syria, Assad didn’t try to stop them; instead, his regime “focused all of its military power on moderate opposition groups who were fighting for a voice in Syria.”
Secretary of State Kerry said that the answer to the Syrian civil war cannot be found in a military alliance with Assad; rather it must be found “in a broadly supported diplomatic initiative aimed at a negotiated political transition…which would unite all Syrians who reject dictatorship and terrorism and want to build a stable and united society.”