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Obama says no meeting of minds even as Russia bombs 456 ‘IS targets’

President Barack Obama said on Friday the only area of US understanding with Russia on Syria was on how to prevent accidental clashes between their planes engaged in the conflict, but they differed on principles and strategies to bring peace.

world Updated: Oct 17, 2015 01:38 IST
A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia's defence ministry shows smoke rising after airstrikes carried out by Russian air force on what Russia says is an Islamic State command post.
A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia's defence ministry shows smoke rising after airstrikes carried out by Russian air force on what Russia says is an Islamic State command post.(REUTERS)

President Barack Obama said on Friday the only area of US understanding with Russia on Syria was on how to prevent accidental clashes between their planes engaged in the conflict, but they differed on principles and strategies to bring peace.

Speaking at a news conference after meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Obama said the Syrian civil war was a magnet for extremists and could only end with a political solution resulting in a legitimate inclusive government.

Obama’s announcement came after a high-ranking military official said on Friday Russia had hit more than 456 Islamic State group targets since launching its bombing campaign in Syria on September 30.

“Since the Russian air force went into action on September 30, we made 669 combat sorties,” Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov, a senior Russian General Staff official said in a defence ministry statement.

“In the strikes, 456 targets have been destroyed,” he said. “According to the General Staff, we were able to significantly disrupt the militants’ infrastructure, supply and control systems of the terrorist groups.”

Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria in support of its longstanding ally President Bashar al-Assad, but it has been criticised by the West for hitting moderate groups rather than Islamic State jihadists.

Kartapolov said the air force is avoiding areas where the Free Syrian Army -- the main Western-backed opposition force -- is believed to be operating.

“We only hit targets of internationally-recognised terrorist groups. Our planes are not working in southern Syria, where, according to our information, the Free Syrian Army groups are located,” he said.

Moscow’s military has systematically claimed its strikes have hit Islamic State group targets despite the fact that many of the sites struck seem to fall outside territory held by the group.

‘Window-dressing’

The United States and other members of a rival coalition targeting IS say Moscow has focused the bulk of its firepower on other rebel groups battling Assad.

In an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, Kartapolov slammed the US-led coalition, saying Washington had not responded to Russia’s invitation to cooperate in the fight against IS.

“They consider it humiliating to admit that they cannot fulfil a task they had set out for themselves one year ago without Russia,” Kartapolov said, slamming the coalition’s year-long bombing campaign as “window-dressing”.

“They are in fact unlikely to have the necessary amount of information about IS targets, which the results of their strikes reflects,” he said.

He added that Russia is close to signing an agreement on safe use of Syrian airspace with the United States: “We believe that this document will be signed shortly.”

Kartapolov also accused the US coalition of bombing infrastructure essential to a ground operation by the Syrian army.

“It (coalition bombing) does not complicate the activities of ISIL as much as that of the government forces of President Assad,” he said, using another acronym to refer to IS.

Speaking at a regional summit in Kazakhstan on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile praised the Russian campaign, saying the strikes had “destroyed dozens of command posts, munitions depots, hundreds of terrorists and a large amount of military hardware”.

The Russian defence ministry said Friday that the latest air strikes had created “favourable conditions” for a Syrian ground offensive and destroyed two IS command posts in Aleppo province, among other targets.

Kartapolov said that Russia -- which already has a naval facility in the port city of Tartus and uses an airfield in Latakia -- could build a full-fledged Russian military base in the country.