U.S. officials on the ground in Syria said they believe Russia is deliberately targeting CIA-backed Syrian rebels with its airstrikes in the region as a direct challenge to President Obama’s policy in Syria.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the conclusion led the Obama administration to consider how the U.S. can increase help to Syrian rebel groups fighting the Bashar al-Assad regime without getting further involved in the civil war there.
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Obama has said that the does not want the U.S. to become more embroiled in the conflict.
According to officials, the Department of Defense has refused to share information with Moscow regarding the position of U.S.-backed rebels. The Pentagon fears Russia, a strong ally of the Assad regime, could use the intelligence to more accurately target the rebels or relay it to Assad.
Russia launched its first airstrikes in Syria last Wednesday near the city of Homs, an area that is not controlled by the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS), despite Moscow’s assurances it has bolstered military involvement in Syria in order to combat IS and other terrorist groups. Most of the subsequent airstrikes have appeared to target rebel groups fighting Assad that have been armed and trained by the CIA.
"On day one, you can say it was a one-time mistake," a senior U.S. official explained. "But on day three and day four, there’s no question it’s intentional. They know what they’re hitting."
Officials suspect Russia is attacking U.S.-backed Syrian rebel groups presenting the greatest immediate threat to the Assad regime.
Though Russian President Vladimir Putin and his officials have insisted that the country’s military activity in Syria will only involve airstrikes, Moscow said Monday that its "volunteer" forces will soon begin fighting on the ground in Syria. Similar Russian forces fought on the ground in Ukraine as Putin intervened there.
The White House has yet to offer aid to the Syrian rebels being targeted by Russia.