The US and Turkey have said that Russian strikes in Syria have mainly targeted moderate rebel groups, not "Islamic State" fighters. Meanwhile, the Syrian regime launched its first ground offensive with Russian help.
The US State Department says Russia, apart from wanting to prop up Bashar al-Assad's regime, lacked a clear strategy in Syria, "and 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," spokesman John Kirby said in a press briefing on Wednesday, using an alternate acronym for the self-styled "Islamic State" or "IS."
"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."
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu echoed that assessment, saying that only two out of 57 Russian air strikes in Syria so far had hit Islamic State, while the rest had been against the moderate opposition.
Both Turkey and the US reiterated that Russia was making a big mistake by escalating the conflict in Syria. Davutoglu warned Russia not to violate its airspace again after two incursions by Moscow on Saturday and Sunday.
Shortly before a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Thursday, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia "to play cooperative role in fight against ISIS, not to support the regime," using another acronym for IS.
NATO urges Russia to be 'cooperative'
He told reporters that there was a "renewed need for political initiative in Syria," and asked Russia to play "a cooperative role" in the fight against IS. He also assured Turkey that NATO was ready to help Ankara defend its airspace against Russia.
Meanwhile, the Syrian regime launched a major ground offensive in the provinces of Hama and Idlib on Wednesday, aided by the Russian air force and navy which are said to have hit at least 40 targets with heavy bombardments and cruise missile strikes from the Caspian Sea as cover for the ground offensive.
The offensive was aimed at weakening a group of rebels fighting the regime as well as IS. Russia insists it is targeting IS and other "terrorist groups" after a request from Assad.
Moscow's defense ministry says the strikes have hit IS positions almost exclusively and only once targeted al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra front.
ng/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)