Russia launched its first airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday, U.S. officials said, appearing to target an area that is not controlled by the Islamic State despite assurances from Moscow it has increased military activity in the country to fight the terrorist group.
The New York Times reported that Russian warplanes dropped bombs near the city of Homs in the western region of Syria, according to anonymous Washington officials. While officials and analysts from Moscow billed the strikes as an attempt to deal a blow to the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS) and also support President Bashar al-Assad, Homs is not controlled by IS.
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The move came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin forced a measure through the upper house of Parliament, known as the Federation Council, which allowed the use of Russian military force abroad.
American officials said that Russia made them aware of the plan to launch the strikes before doing so.
The Federation Council unanimously approved the measure authorizing force earlier Wednesday, though eight lawmakers were not there to vote. Putin’s chief of staff Sergei B. Ivanov told the upper house that the measure was meant to authorize actions by Moscow’s air force in Syria.
"We’re talking exclusively about operations of Russia’s Air Force, as our president has already said, the use of armed forces on the ground theater of military operations is excluded," Ivanov said in remarks later broadcast.
"It will be air support for the Syrian forces in their struggle with ISIS," he clarified.
The vote resembled one that preceded Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and ultimately its annexation of Crimea.
Russia’s decision to launch the airstrikes comes just days after President Obama and Putin met to discuss Moscow’s actions in Syria at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Russia has been sending military aid and troops to Syria despite repeated warnings from the Obama administration.