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US Official: Russian Missiles Aimed at Syria Crash in Iran

by VOA News October 08, 2015

Four Russian cruise missiles launched from warships in the Caspian Sea crashed in Iran, falling short of their targets in Syria, a U.S official confirmed to VOA.

The official said there has been no information on damage.

Russia on Wednesday ramped up its air campaign in Syria with heavy aerial bombardments and, for the first time, cruise missile strikes launched from the Caspian Sea, in support of a major ground operation by the Syrian military.

Russian officials had said 26 cruise missiles were launched at 11 Islamic State targets, which were destroyed without causing any civilian casualties.

​​NATO rapid response force

After noting the 'troubling escalation' of Russia's military activities in Syria, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance agreed Thursday to double the size of its rapid response force, to 40,000 troops.

Stoltenberg's comments came in Brussels where Russia's intervention in the Syrian civil war was high on the agenda in talks among NATO defense ministers.

The issue took on more importance after reports this week that Russian jets involved in the Syrian air raids violated the airspace of Turkey, a member of the United States-backed military alliance.

Stoltenberg told reporters after the defense ministers' meeting that he urged Russia to "play a productive role" in Syria, adding that its recent actions, such as breaching Turkish airspace, "are not helpful."

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, a participant in Thursday's meeting, said Russia will soon begin to suffer casualties after dramatically expanding its military support for longtime ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

'This will have consequences for Russia itself, which is rightly fearful of attacks. ... In coming days, the Russians will begin to suffer from casualties,' Carter said at the meeting in Brussels.

Military risks

Worse still, Moscow is risking clashes with U.S. and other planes also targeting Islamic State jihadists in Syria.

Carter described a trend of unpredictable military action that has put the U.S. and its allies on edge, including Russia firing cruise missiles at Syrian targets this week without giving any advance warning.

'We've seen increasingly unprofessional behavior from Russian forces. They violated Turkish airspace. … They have shot cruise missiles from a ship in the Caspian Sea without warning; they have come within just a few miles (kilometers) of one of our unmanned aerial vehicles,' Carter said after NATO defense talks in Brussels.

For 40 years, NATO's central task was deterring Russia in the east during the Cold War. Now, after a decade of involvement in Afghanistan, the alliance faces a threat from Islamic State extremists in the south.

'NATO is ready and able to defend all allies, including Turkey, against any threats,' Stoltenberg said. 'NATO has already responded by increasing our capacity, our ability, to deploy forces including to the south, including in Turkey.'

'End of Cold War'

He said the increase in the rapid response force 'is the biggest reinforcement to our collective defense since the end of the Cold War. And by doing that, we provide the deterrence, which is so essential to make sure that all NATO countries are safe and that they can rely on NATO.'

Carl Hvenmark Nilsson, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., told VOA's Persian news service that the NATO alliance sees Russia's growing involvement in Syria as "deeply problematic."

"It is clear from Ankara that they see this as a hostile act and that they are very worried" that Russia's jets infringed on Turkish airspace, Nilsson said.

Defensive move

NATO's secretary general said the alliance's decision to bolster forces was purely defensive. He said plans were also finalized for new NATO headquarters offices in Hungary and Slovakia.

​​"All of this sends a clear message to all NATO citizens. NATO will defend you, NATO is on the ground, NATO is ready," Stoltenberg said.

NATO ministers were using Thursday's meeting to try to come up with ways to de-escalate the crisis, British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said, adding that Moscow is 'making a serious situation in Syria much more dangerous.'

'The single most helpful thing Russia could do is use its influence to stop [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad from barrel-bombing its own civilians,' Fallon told reporters before heading into the meeting.

On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Carter offered a harsh critique of the Russian military campaign, and vowed Washington will not coordinate with Moscow on the matter.

'Russia has the wrong strategy – they continue to hit targets that are not ISIL,' Carter said, referring to an acronym for the Islamic State group, which controls large parts of Syria. 'We believe this is a fundamental mistake.'

Russia insists its air bombardments primarily target the Islamist extremist group and its allies. But the U.S. has said many of the strikes have targeted other rebel groups, including some supported by Washington.

Weakened IS

Syrian Army General Ali Abdullah Ayoub said Thursday the Russian airstrikes have weakened the Islamic State group. He announced the beginning of a large-scale attack in the country's west, aimed at 'liberating areas and towns which have been suffering the woes and crimes of terrorism.'

'Following the Russian airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other terrorist organizations, which have reduced their fighting capacity, the Syrian armed forces have kept the reins of military initiative,' Ayoub told state media.

Activists have reported increased fighting in Hama and Idlib provinces, and said government troops are trying to push into Latakia province.

The U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State group said Thursday it had launched 18 strikes against the group in Iraq and two in Syria in the previous 24 hours.

The airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq were focused near six cities: Bayji, Kirkuk, Mosul, Ramadi, Sinjar and Sultan Abdalla, the U.S.-led task force said in a statement released on Thursday. In Syria, the two strikes hit Islamic State oil collection targets near Al Hawl.

Russia's air force hit 27 Islamic State targets overnight in the Syrian provinces of Homs, Hama and Raqqa, Interfax news agency quoted the Russian defense ministry as saying Thursday. In the Hama and Raqqa regions, the ministry said it targeted Islamic State training sites.

Carla Babb contributed to this report from the Pentagon. Jeff Sedlin reported fom Washington. Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.



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