Russian warplanes began bombarding Syrian opposition targets in the war-torn nation’s north Wednesday, following a terse meeting at which a Russian general asked Pentagon officials to clear out of Syrian air space and was rebuffed, Fox News has learned.
A U.S. official said Russian airstrikes targeted fighters in the vicinity of Homs, located roughly 60 miles east of a Russian naval facility in Tartus, and were carried out by a “couple” of Russian bombers. The strikes hit targets in Homs and Hama, but there is no presence of ISIS in those areas, a senior U.S. defense official said. These planes are hitting areas where Free Syrian Army and other anti-Assad groups are located, the official said.
According to a U.S. senior official, Presidents Obama and Putin agreed on a process to “deconflict” military operations. The Russians on Wednesday “bypassed that process,” the official said.
“That’s not how responsible nations do business,” the official said.
The development came after Pentagon officials, in a development first reported by Fox News, brushed aside an official request, or “demarche,” from Russia to clear air space over northern Syria, where Moscow said it intended to conduct airstrikes against ISIS on behalf of Assad, according to sources who spoke to Fox News. The request was made in a heated discussion between a Russian three-star general and U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Baghdad, sources said.
“If you have forces in the area we request they leave,” said the general, who used the word “please” in the contentious encounter.
A senior Pentagon official said the U.S., which also has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS, but does not support Assad, said the request was not honored.
“We still conducted our normal strike operations in Syria today,” the official said. “We did not and have not changed our operations.”
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters the Russian airstrikes won’t change the strategy of the U.S.-led coalition.
“The U.S.-led coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned and in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL,” Kirby told reporters, while acknowledging the meeting at the American embassy in Baghdad.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told foreign ministers of world powers Wednesday that his country is “ready to forge standing channels of communication to ensure a maximally effective fight against terrorist groups.”
Lavrov spoke to the U.N. Security Council shortly after Russia’s defense ministry announced its jets are carrying out airstrikes on Islamic State group positions in Syria.
Lavrov said Russia would shortly circulate a draft council resolution to promote joint efforts against groups like the Islamic State.
The move by Moscow marks a major escalation in ongoing tensions between the two countries over military action in the war-torn country and comes moments after Russian lawmakers formally approved a request from Putin to authorize the use of troops in Syria. Putin said previously that Russia would strike ISIS targets.
Read more: Fox News