Reply Sat 3 Oct, 2015 08:53 am
American television news outlets reporting on Syria echo the Obama administration's views on Russian bombing of rebel groups; generally the perspective offered is that the Russians are doing something wrong because they are not targeting ISIS enough (or at all).

One prominent and representative example involves air strikes on the town of Talbiseh. For example, Buzzfeed reports:

"The areas targeted were mostly strongholds of Jaish al-Fatah, a coalition of rebel groups that includes the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, but also the popular Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline Islamist rebel group backed by Turkey and Qatar. All the targets were far to the west of ISIS strongholds in eastern and northeastern Syria, but key to protecting Assad's dominion in the country's northwest and the capital, Damascus."

Accordingly to the Washington think-tank Bipartisan Policy Center,

"While the roughly dozen member groups are typically dynamic, three are of particular note due to their size and affiliation. The al-Nusra front, which contains approximately one third of Jaish al-Fatah’s active fighters, is explicitly allied with al-Qaeda, and has also recently demonstrated opposition to the U.S.-Turkish alliance against ISIS, which al-Nusra leaders claim focuses too little on evicting Assad. Secondly, Ahrar ash-Sham contributes roughly another third of fighters, many of whom are practicing Salafis and sent condolences to Taliban leader Mullah Omar’s supporters upon news of his death. Further, Jund al-Aqsa, another important group within the umbrella, is known to be a strong al-Qaeda front organization. Most of the individual groups within Jaish al-Fatah are jihadist in nature, and advertise their battles as part of a larger jihad for a repressive form of Islamic governance."

So, while the Russians may not be focusing on ISIS, it appears that at least some of their targets are radical Islamic militants affiliated with or sympathetic to terrorist groups like al Qaeda.

The air strikes by the Russians are taking place in areas bordering regime held territory, which might be viewed as on the front line of rebel initiatives against the national government.

For the record, I do not support either American or Russian bombing in Syria. Bombing of ISIS positions in the north cannot deprive ISIS of a stronghold; only ground troops can dig ISIS fighters out of their occupied, fortified positions and kill or capture them. Bombs are by nature indiscriminate, destroying whatever is within their blast radius, which in urban areas inevitably includes civilian residents and infrastructure. By creating a new generation of victims, the U.S. guarantees fresh recruits, supporters, and sympathizers for ISIS and other anti-western militants and terrorists.

If the goal is the overthrow of the Assad regime, a better strategy would have been to create a no-fly zone: without air support the military balance would quickly shift in favor of the rebels. Of course, this might well mean the establishment of radical Islamic government, as the Russians suggest, as well as continued civil war as the patchwork of Islamic militant groups battle one another for domination.

Al Qaeda targets the "far enemy" meaning the West. By contrast, ISIS is firstly concerned with the "near enemy" meaning Shiite Muslims and Arab monarchies in the region. ISIS didn't start beheading Westerners until after it was targeted by the U.S. led coalition; calls for lone wolf attacks also came later.

Frankly, I don't understand why the United States doesn't allow Iran to have the headache of prolonged unconventional warfare with terrorist reprisals on behalf of its client states, Iraq and Syria. Syria has been in the Russian/Soviet orbit for decades and has been supported by Iran since its Islamic revolution. The idea that the U.S. can establish regional influence through Syria is preposterous. As for Iraq, its Shiite leaders spent years in exile in Iran, and because of deep religious and political ties have been firmly in Iran's orbit since they came to political power in Iraq last decade.

The Syrian air force has been far more active than the Russians. From late 2014 to mid-,2015 they carried out more than 28,000 air strikes against rebels. Many used helicopters to drop barrel bombs, but there were many air strikes using Russian fighter jets sold to Syria long before the Russians' more active recent intervention.

The primary accomplishment of the new intervention is to make a no-fly zone impractical, both because of updated air defenses and because of the presence of Russian pilots, since unlike Syria, Russia is a nuclear power and overt military attacks on its military are not lightly undertaken.

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Reply Sat 3 Oct, 2015 10:27 am
For clarification, Buzzfeed's reporting that "the areas targeted were mostly strongholds of Jaish al-Fatah" referred to the Russian bombing campaign as a whole, not to the town of Talbiseh specifically. I mentioned it simply because it is a suburb of Homs, the capital of Homs Province (Governate), which was widely criticized by the media as an illegitimate target.

Also, here is an excellent analysis of Syrian (not Russian) air force activity since the civil war began:
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Reply Sun 4 Oct, 2015 10:28 am
Posted 9/30/2015 8:52am (EDT): An alleged Russian airstrike hit the rebel-held town of Talbisah north of Homs City. Talbisah is home to Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, hardline Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, and a number of other local rebel groups, all of which are active in local governance efforts in the area. Both Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have claimed a number of vehicle-borne IEDs (VBIEDs) in Homs City, located only 12 kilometers south of Talbisah. Following reports of U.S. and Turkish efforts to establish an ISIS "free zone" in the northern Aleppo countryside, JN withdrew from the border and reportedly reinforced positions in this rebel-held pocket north of Homs city. Notably, the airstrike did not hit ISIS militants and rather resulted in 33 civilian casualties.
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Reply Sun 4 Oct, 2015 11:01 am
"It is an axiom of warfare that neither aerial bombardment nor artillery kill many troops that are prepared for the bombardment; artillery tends to kill only troops (or civilians) that are in the open or taken by surprise."

-- Richard A. Gabriel in Operation Peace For Galilee: The Israeli-PLO War In Lebanon

I'm continually amazed at the never ending stream of retired military (including some high ranking and prominent generals) who appear on FOX News and other outlets, opining that stepped up bombing in Iraq/Syria would be an effective strategy against ISIS, and complaining that "liberal" concerns about civilian casualties are preventing air strikes from being effective.

The Germans mercilessly pounded Stalingrad to rubble both before initiating ground operations and during those operations as they attempted to advance through the city. That didn't prevent Russian ground forces from fighting for every pulverized street in five months of block to block combat.

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Reply Wed 7 Oct, 2015 02:07 pm
Update (October 7):

" The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group with wide contacts inside Syria, said Russian fighter jets had launched at least 37 strikes on Wednesday. The SOHR said the Russians bombed targets in the province of Idlib, most of which is held by a coalition of rebels known as Jaysh al-Fateh, which includes the al-Qaida wing in Syria."

Contrast the on the ground Syrian observations cited above, with continued assertions by the U.S. government:

"More than 90% of Russian strikes in Syria have not targeted IS or Al-Qaeda, US says"
Reply Wed 7 Oct, 2015 02:11 pm
thanks for using a variety of media sources
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Reply Mon 15 Feb, 2016 08:24 am
So, our F16s to Finland is a bluff we don't have to make.
looks like needless escalation.
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