ARLINGTON, Va. — A spokesman for U.S. operations in Iraq said the coalition found out that Russia was taking off from Iran to conduct airstrikes on Syrian targets with “not a lot of time” but “enough” notification.
Russia’s ministry of defense said in a statement posted on their Facebook page that Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 tactical bombers took off today from Hamedan Air Base in northwestern Iran and “carried out a concentrated airstrike on objects of the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groupings in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Idlib.”
“As a result, the strikes have eliminated 5 large ammunition depots with armament, munitions and fuel, training camps of militants near Serakab, Al-Ghab, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor cities, 3 control centres of militants near the cities Jafra and Deir ez-Zor as well as a significant number of militants,” the MOD continued.
“…All Russian aircraft have returned to the airfield after accomplishing the combat task.”
Russia also tweeted what they said was video of the operation:
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) August 16, 2016
The Pentagon has called out Russia on many occasions for striking opponents of ally Bashar al-Assad instead of Islamic State fighters.
Col. Chris Garver, spokesman for Combined Joint Take Force Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters via video link from Baghdad today that the coalition has “not struck targets in Aleppo in a very long time.”
“We have not struck targets in Idlib in a very long time, if we have at all,” he said. “We don’t see concentrations of ISIS in those areas.”
Garver was sparse on details surrounding the Russians’ use of Iran’s airbase, stressing, “I’m not a spokesperson for the Russian military — and so I’ll let them discuss their targets and what they hit and what they did when they were in Syria.”
“What I will say is the Russians did notify the coalition as per the Memorandum of Understanding for safety of flight. They activated that system, as we have in the past. They informed us they were coming through and we ensured safety of flight as those bombers passed through the area and toward their target and then when they passed out again,” he said.
“They did not impact coalition operations in either Iraq or Syria during the time. And as I said, I’m not going to talk about the specifics of their operations. You can ask them about that. But we did know in time, as per the requirement in the safety of flight memorandum of agreement, and we were able to maintain that safety of flight during the entire incident.”
The path from Iran to Syria would have take the Russian aircraft over Iraq. Garver said he didn’t have an answer on whether permission was sought and granted by Iraq to use their airspace.
“If you’re flying over another country’s sovereign territory and sovereign airspace, you should get permission. I can’t say one way or another in this if they did. That’s not part of the discussion with the coalition when they activate the safety of flight memorandum of agreement, the memorandum of agreement,” he said.
Asked about whether this was going to become a pattern for Russia in the future: “I’m not even going to try to speculate on that one.”
“…I’m not going to speculate about, you know, what they’ve got planned. And I’m not going to speculate about what we think they have planned. The coalition remains focused on what we’re doing, which is fighting Daesh.”