Russian warplanes target militants in Syria with cruise missiles

Published November 18th, 2015 - 09:43 GMT

Russian airplanes destroyed 14 Islamic State (Daesh) targets in Syria Tuesday in one of its largest air strikes in decades.

From a base in southern Russia, warplanes including 25 Backfire, Bear and Blackjack bombers dropped air-launched cruise missiles against more than a dozen Islamic State targets over night in what represents a major escalation of Russian military involvement in Syria.

The raid comes on the same day the head of Russian security announced a bomb brought down the Metrojet Russian passenger plane that crashed near Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board. The government is offering a $50 million reward for information about those responsible for the crash.

It also comes a day after President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron urged Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit to focus air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria. Both US and British governments were notified ahead of the strikes.

Gen. Valery Gerasimov calling the attack part of "a new plan [for] the air campaign."

"During a massive airstrike today, 14 important ISIL targets were destroyed by 34 air-launched cruise missiles," said Gerasimov, chief of Russia's general staff. "The targets destroyed include command posts that were used to coordinate ISIL activities in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, munition and supply depots in the northwestern part of Syria."

What is not clear is how much air strikes were actually focused on Islamic State targets and not a continuation of the bombing of regions held by US-backed rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The topic has been a sticking point in U.S.-Russian relations since the Russian air campaign started six weeks ago in support of al-Assad.

"The Russian General Staff has developed a new plan of the air campaign [in Syria] which envisions deployment of 25 strategic bombers, eight Su-34 Fullback attack aircraft, and four Su-27 Flanker fighter jets," Gerasimov said.

The jet-powered and swing-wing Backfires are said to carry unguided, or "dumb" bombs. The propeller-driven Bear and jet-powered, swing-wing Blackjack are currently the biggest combat planes built. All three have a range of thousands of miles carrying at least 20 tons of weaponry, capability similar to US and Chinese warplanes.

By Shawn Price

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