These Maps Prove Russian Airstrikes Aren’t Actually Targeting ISIS

CREDIT: Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting with senior government officials at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015.

Russia stepped up their support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime by conducting their first airstrikes in Syria on Wednesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin pitched the intervention, in which he says there will be no Russian boots deployed to fight on the ground, as a way to support the Assad regime by combating international terrorism and fighting ISIS — also known as the Islamic State or ISIL.

The Syrian civil war has been going on for over four years now and has seen more than 200,000 people die. It has also spurred a large part of the current mass migration of refugees into Europe. More than 2,800 people have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea this year alone.

Russia maintains a naval base in the Syrian coastal city of Tartus and has unabashedly supported Assad since the start of the revolution in 2011. Russia and China vetoed a UN declaration that year that would have condemned the Assad regime’s violent suppression of protests. In 2014, Russia and China again vetoed a UN resolution to refer the regime and the opposition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over war crimes.

Russia’s first airstrike shows that Putin’s intentions are to continue supporting Assad against any opposition. Russian warplanes bombed areas close to the city of Homs, where ISIS does maintain a presence, albeit not nearly as large a presence as other areas. Homs is located in Syria’s central-western region, near the Lebanese border. ISIS strongholds are largely in the north and east, including its self-proclaimed capital Raqqa.

Russian Airstrikes 30 SEPT 2015-1

Original Source: ISW

As the first map above shows, the area hit is not controlled by ISIS. Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria’s al-Qaeda branch, is close to one of the six airstrike location. The closest ISIS presence is nowhere near where the airstrikes took place and Raqqa is not even on the first map.

Russian Posture in Syria 27 SEP 2015-01

Original Source: ISW

The White House came forward Wednesday to say that they weren’t sure who it was that the Russian airstrikes are targeting. “It’s too early for me to say exactly what targets they were aiming at and what targets were actually hit,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

Other American officials have gone as far as to say that Russia is not bombing ISIS. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters Wednesday: “It does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not [ISIS] forces.”

As the New York Times reported on Wednesday:

Although Russia and Syrian state television broadcasts said that the attacks had been against Islamic State targets, it was not immediately clear how they reached that conclusion or what they were targeting. The Syrian government has a tendency to label all of its opponents as being part of the Islamic State. The United States military, as well as opponents of the Syrian government on the ground, said the militants did not have a presence, or at least not an obvious presence, in the parts of the central provinces where much of the Russian firepower seemed concentrated.

The Syrian Civil Defense unit, a group of search and rescue volunteers, claimed that ISIS was stationed 30 kilometers from where the airstrikes took place. Multiple sources also said the strikes killed a number of civilians and that bread distribution centers were also hit.

Russia did not seem to target ISIS today and many believe there’s a possibility they won’t target them in future airstrikes either. Assad’s forces have been accused of aiding ISIS in the past as well as contributing to their formation by releasing radicals from prison during the uprising’s earlier days. The idea goes that Assad wants the U.S. and other states to back his fight against the opposition by painting them as a cohesive unit of radicals.

As Time reported in February of this year, “Assad does not see ISIS as his primary problem.” A prominent businessman cited as having close ties to the regime told the magazine, “If the regime were serious about getting rid of ISIS, they would have bombed Raqqa by now. Instead they bomb other cities, where the FSA is strong.”