Russia and US to hold urgent talks to ensure they do not end up in 'conflict' in Syria after Putin defies West to launch air strikes - and they all hit anti-Assad forces rather than ISIS
- Russia began airstrikes on three provinces in support of President Assad
- All areas targeted are held by moderate rebels backed by U.S-led coalition
- U.S. was only given hour notice of strikes, which killed at least 36 civilians
- John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister and pair agreed to hold talks 'as soon as possible' to ensure they don't get into conflict in war-torn Syria
- See latest news from Russia's air strikes in Syria
Russia and the U.S. have agreed to hold urgent military talks to ensure they do not end up 'in conflict' after Vladimir Putin launched airstrikes on Syria.
More than 20 Russian fighter jets launched an attack on three provinces in Syria yesterday, after the U.S. was given just one hours' notice to remove its planes and officials from the area.
The move increased tensions between the two countries, after concerns were raised that the airstrikes were only targeting anti-government rebels, many of whom are backed by the U.S.-led coalition, instead of ISIS-held areas.
Syrian opposition chief Khaled Khoja said 36 civilians had been killed in the attacks, which also apparently targeted a CIA-vetted Syrian rebel group that was receiving U.S. missiles.
Last night, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a strained press conference alongside Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with the pair confirming urgent 'de-confliction' talks will be held.
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Airstrikes: Russian jets have begun raids in Syria after apparently only giving the U.S. an hour to remove its planes and officials from the area. Pictured: Footage shows rockets hitting the Homs province of Syria
Explosion: The Russian Defence Ministry said it carried out 20 flights over Syria on Wednesday but concerns were raised they were targeting anti-government rebels, many of whom are backed by the U.S.-led coalition
They said each country's military will hold talks 'as soon as possible' to ensure their forces do not clash in Syria.
Appearing together on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, they said they had drawn up proposals to relaunch a Syrian political peace process.
'We agreed on the imperative of as soon as possible - perhaps even as soon as tomorrow, but as soon as possible - having a military to military de-confliction discussion,' Kerry said.
He added that the two countries would work together to come to a solution regarding Syria. But he also added: 'It's one thing to be targeting ISlL. We are concerned if that is not what is happening.'
The hastily-arranged press conference came after U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter accused Russia of 'pouring gasoline on the fire' as the intervention in the Middle East appeared to target moderate rebel positions in support of dictator President Bashar al-Assad.
Both Foreign Ministers last night claimed legitimacy for their country's actions, but differed over the role of Assad.
Afterwards, in a tense address to the press after the meeting, both sides insisted the meeting had been 'constructive', but did not answer any questions from reporters.
Earlier, senior U.S. officials expressed alarm after Russian warplanes began their first military engagement outside the former Soviet Union since the occupation of Afghanistan in 1979.
The Americans accused Russia of striking moderate rebel factions fighting Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime under cover of their claimed assault on the Islamic State group.
Russian officials responded by claiming that out of the 20 airstrikes, eight ISIS targets had been hit.
The ministry said Russian jets had destroyed an Islamic State command post and an operations centre in a mountainous area. The strikes did not hit civilian infrastructure or areas nearby.
However, activists, locals and rebels did not indicate that ISIS was a group being targeted in the airstrikes and instead said the areas blitzed by Moscow were controlled by an array of rebel groups - including those operating under the banner of the Free Syrian Army.
It's one thing to be targeting ISlL. We are concerned if that is not what is happening
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
One Western-backed Syrian rebel group confirmed that at least one of its leading officers had been killed in the airstrikes in the central Homs province.
The group said that Iyad al-Deek - an officer in the Syrian army who defected soon after the Syrian revolution turned into a war in 2011 - died in an airstrike in the rural north of Homs.
If claims that Russia is killing anti-government rebels are true, it raises fears that the West must support Assad or risk becoming locked in a battle with Moscow.
Putin's involvement – which came hours after Moscow's parliament rubberstamped the order – also raised fears that flying over Syria could become 'nasty and highly dangerous' for coalition jets.
Along with 28 fighter jets, Putin is also believed to have deployed a surface-to-air missile system in Syria – which could be used to shoot down British and coalition planes.
He has also sent 14 helicopters, seven tanks and a number of drones to the country.
The RAF is currently conducting aerial operations in the region, using aging Tornado aircraft, Reaper drones and intelligence-gathering jets.
A Western-backed Syrian rebel group confirmed that at least one of its leading officers had been killed in the airstrikes in the central Homs province. Pictured: Footage from the ground in Syria after rockets hit Homs
Strikes: Footage showed plumes of smoke rising above the rubble as Russian jets targeted part of Syria
Blast: Locals run for cover as Russian airstrikes target three areas of Syria, although not ISIS-held territory
Number Ten had been planning to hold an imminent Commons vote on expanding existing British air strikes on Iraq into Syria.
But last month Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the intervention of Russian forces had 'complicated an immensely complicated situation' in Syria. As a result, the vote and any UK action in Syria could be delayed by months.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was prepared to welcome Russian military action in Syria - but only as long as it was directed against IS and Al Qaeda-linked groups.
Russia had warned the U.S. to pull its planes out of Syria only an hour before the strikes began, driving a bigger wedge between Putin and President Obama, who faced off over the conflict at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York on Monday.
We have also made clear that we would have grave concerns should Russia strike areas where ISIL and al-Qaeda affiliated targets are not operating
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
It is understood a Russian three-star general arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, just an hour before the raids and asked that any forces in the area should leave immediately.
According to Fox News, the general said: 'If you have forces in the area, we request they leave.'
The move infuriated Washington with Kerry complaining to his Russian counterpart that Moscow's intervention would destablise the region even further.
A U.S. official said Kerry told Sergei Lavrov that the move 'runs counter to their stated efforts of deconfliction and is not helpful to that effort.'
U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter, who accused Russia of 'pouring gasoline on the fire', has now instructed his staff to talk to Russian officials about how to keep each other's air operations in Syria from colliding.
He said the airstrikes appeared to have targeted areas that do not include ISIS fighters, a development which Kerry said would cause 'grave concern' for the U.S.
'It does appear they were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces,' Carter said.
He added that the strikes highlighted a contradiction in Russia's approach, saying they should not be supporting the Assad government, and that their military moves are 'doomed to fail.'
Coalition troops, including British soldiers, are currently planning to train 6,000 moderate Syrians opposed to President Assad in various locations across the region.
Bombers: Video footage emerged that claims to show Russian jets targeting areas in Hama Province in Syria which are controlled by moderate rebel groups supported by the U.S.-led coalition and not ISIS
Target: Footage, released by Russian defence ministry, shows jets taking action over Syria in the airstrikes
The strikes hit Rastan, Talbisseh and Zaafarani in Homs (shown on graphic) but concerns were raised that ISIS-held areas were not targeted by the Russian forces
Carter also expressed disappointment that the Russians did not use formal channels to provide the U.S. with advance notice of its airstrikes, but instead sent an official to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
'By supporting Assad and seemingly taking on everyone who is fighting Assad, you're taking on the whole rest of the country of Syria,' Carter said. 'That is not our position. At least some parts of the anti-Assad opposition belong in the political transition going forward. That's why the Russian approach is doomed to fail.'
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the new action 'calls into question their strategy, because when President Putin and President Obama had the opportunity to meet at the U.N. earlier this week much of their discussion was focused on the need for a political transition inside Syria.'
Kerry said Russian operations must not support Assad or interfere with those of the U.S.-led coalition that is already attacking Islamic State targets. He called for an urgent start to military-to-military talks to prevent any kind of conflict between Russia and the coalition, suggesting they begin this week.
By supporting Assad and seemingly taking on everyone who is fighting Assad, you're taking on the whole rest of the country of Syria. That is not our position
U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter
'If Russia's recent actions and those now ongoing reflect a genuine commitment to defeat (the Islamic State) then we are prepared to welcome those efforts and to find a way to de-conflict our operations and thereby multiply military pressure on ISIL and affiliated groups,' Kerry said.
'But we must not and will not be confused in our fight against ISIL with support for Assad.'
'Moreover, we have also made clear that we would have grave concerns should Russia strike areas where ISIL and al-Qaeda affiliated targets are not operating,' he said.
'Strikes of that kind would question Russia's real intentions fighting ISIL or protecting the Assad regime.'
Kerry also said the U.S.-led coalition would 'dramatically accelerate' its efforts.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov followed Kerry, saying Russia is ready to 'forge standing channels of communication to ensure a maximally effective fight.'
He listed countries with a key role to play in resolving the chaos in Syria, including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar , the U.S. and China.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain was still trying to confirm what the Russians had done following their announcement of the airstrikes.
But he reiterated Britain's belief that President Assad has no future as the Syrian leader – and that the Russians could face legal consequences for their 'open and ostentatious' support of him.
David Cameron said that if Russia was 'acting in defence of Assad the dictator' then 'obviously that is a retrograde step'. However, senior Tory ministers backed Russia's intervention and condemned the British government for being 'naïve in the extreme'.
Blitzed: The video claims to show the aftermath of aerial bombings in the Syrian province of Hama. A U.S. official said the Russian air strikes so far did not appear to be targeting ISIS-held territory
Obliterated: Damaged buildings and a minaret are seen in the Syrian town of Talbisseh in Homs province after Russian airstrikes targeted rebel-held territory in co-ordinated strikes with Syrian fighter planes
The Russian strikes had hit Rastan and Talbisseh (above), neither of which has an Islamic State presence
Tory MP Julian Lewis, chair of the defence select committee, said that the Russians appeared to know exactly what they were doing and the West had a 'wholly unrealistic expectation of the conflict'.
He said: 'We are still wedded to this fixation that the dictator Assad must be removed and until the Government abandons this idea, they are going to find themselves caught between two fires.
'Whatever we think of their misconduct elsewhere in the world, the Russians have clearly made up their mind which side of the civil war they intend to support and the British remain stuck in a trap of our own making and we have to choose between the lesser of two evils.
'I believe that Daesh is the greater of two evils but this is not something which the government is prepared to face up to.'
Britain currently has no warplanes conducting air strikes over Syria as the Government is waiting to seek parliamentary approval. There are ten unmanned drones flying in the region however which have been used to take out two British jihadists fighting in Syria.
Earlier, Russian officials insisted the strikes had targeted positions, vehicles and warehouses that Moscow believes belong to ISIS militants.
Sergey Lavrov used a UN Security Council meeting to warn that ISIS militants possess components for weapons of mass destruction and called for the world to unite in the fight against terrorist groups.
'In the vast areas of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State has actually created an extremist quasi-state, which commands an efficient repressive apparatus, stable sources of income, well-equipped army and elements of weapons of mass destruction, he said, it was reported by Russia Today.
A Syrian security source said the strikes hit several areas in central Homs and Hama provinces as well as the coastal regime stronghold of Latakia province.
The group said the strikes hit Rastan, Talbisseh and Zaafarani in Homs, while the security source said the Russian strikes had hit Rastan and Talbisseh.
It cane as residents told how the Russian jets flew at higher altitudes than the Syrian air force and emitted no noise, meaning civilians were not alerted to the raid.
A doctor working in the town of Rastan - one of the areas targeted – said the strikes had been 'the most violent and ferocious' to hit the country.
He said: 'We have been exposed to a wide range of weapons over the last five years, but what happened [Wednesday] was absolutely the most violent and ferocious, and the most comprehensive in the northern Homs countryside.
'As I speak to you now the mosque minarets are warning of planes in the sky and warning that gatherings of people should disperse'.
He said the 11 people killed in the town, some 20 km (12 miles) north of the city of Homs, included three children and their father who died along with two visitors when their home was hit.
'It was as if the house never was,' said the doctor, who helped treat casualties from the attack.
Control of Homs province is mostly divided between Syria's regime and the Islamic State group, which holds the famed city of Palmyra and much of the area east of it.
But none of the areas reportedly targeted by Russian strikes are in any of the three provinces known to have an ISIS presence.
This satellite image taken on September 23 shows a build-up of Russian aircraft around Bassel Al Assad Air Base in Syria, as Moscow defied the West by increasing its military presence in support of President Assad
This satellite image taken on September 23 shows tanks and armoured vehicles at Bassel Al Assad Air Base
The areas struck in Homs are mostly controlled by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, while those hit in Latakia are mostly controlled by a coalition known as the Army of Conquest, which includes Al-Nusra.
The areas targeted in Hama are controlled mostly by Islamist and moderate rebel groups.
The move came just hours after a unanimous vote by Russian lawmakers to allow Vladimir Putin to begin combat operations in support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
Russia recently moved fighter aircraft to an air base south of the Syrian coastal city of Latakia.
U.S. officials had said in recent days that the Russians were flying reconnaissance missions without dropping bombs to familiarise themselves within the area.
Sergei Ivanov, chief of Mr Putin's administration, said the measure was necessary 'not in order to achieve some foreign policy goals' but 'in order to defend Russia's national interests'.
The move came as France's first airstrike against ISIS in Syria killed at least 30 jihadists, including 12 child soldiers known as 'Cubs of the Caliphate'.
Putin has to request parliamentary approval for any use of Russian troops abroad, according to the constitution.
The last time he did so was before Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.
This image shows the Istamo weapons storage facility near the Syrian town of Latakia, where large concrete surfaces have been put in place or are under construction and the assembly of a potential fuel depot is underway, according to Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence and advisory firm in Austin, Texas
Russian MI-24 attack helicopters at Bassel Al Assad Air Base: Russia has forges ahead with its military build-up in Syria that now includes dozens of advanced fighter jets as well as tanks, troops and artillery
Backed by Putin: This satellite image from earlier this month shows 16 warplanes at a government airbase near the coastal city of Latakia, backing claims of Moscow support made by the Syrian military officials
'Defending Russia's national interests': Vladimir Putin (centre) chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow. Russia's upper house of parliament has voted unanimously to allow the President to send troops to Syria to fight the Islamic State
Putin's request came after his bilateral meeting with US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, where the two men discussed Russia's recent military build-up in Syria.
The Kremlin reported that Mr Putin hosted a meeting of the Russian security council at his residence outside Moscow on Tuesday night, saying that they were discussing terrorism and extremism.
Ivanov insisted that Moscow is not going to send ground troops to Syria but will only use its air force 'in order to support the government Syrian forces in their fight against the Islamic State' group.
FRANCE PROBES ASSAD FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
France is investigating Bashar al-Assad over alleged crimes against humanity, the Paris prosecutor's office said on Wednesday.
The investigation, which is also examining claims of torture and kidnapping by Assad's forces, was opened 'on the basis of indications received from the foreign ministry' on September 10, an official at the prosecutor's office said.
An estimated 250,000 people have been killed in Syria's four-year civil war between Assad's troops, rebel groups and Islamic State militants, and a further 11 million displaced.
The ministry's dossier drew on some 55,000 photographic images smuggled out of the country by a former Syrian army officer, showing 11,000 alleged victims of forces loyal to Assad, according to various media reports.
Ivanov said thousands of Russians had gone off to fight in Syria so it would be wise for Moscow to 'take pre-emptive steps and do it on the distant frontiers instead of facing the issue here and later on'.
He said the motion came after Moscow received a request from Mr Assad asking for help.
He said the biggest difference between Russia and other countries carrying out air strikes in Syria - such as the US - is that 'they do not comply with the international law, but we do'.
Moscow has always been a top Assad ally. The war in Syria, which began in 2011, has left at least 250,000 dead and forced millions to flee the country. It is also the driving force behind the record-breaking number of asylum-seekers fleeing to Europe this year.
Parliament cut its live web broadcast on Wednesday while it was considering Mr Putin's request.
The Russian opposition was rattled by the Kremlin's request and the way the vote was held.
'The fact that the Federation Council considered sending our troops abroad behind closed doors looks unconstitutional,' opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Twitter. 'Or is it just their own grandsons who are going off (to fight)?'
Meanwhile, at least 30 jihadists, including 12 child soldiers, were killed in France's first air strike against ISIS in Syria, a monitoring group said.
'The French air strike (on Sunday) on an ISIS training camp in eastern Syria killed at least 30 ISIS fighters including 12 from the 'Cubs of the Caliphate',' said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
ISIS calls its child soldiers 'Cubs of the Caliphate'.
France's first air strike against ISIS in Syria killed at least 30 jihadists, including 12 child soldiers known as 'Cubs of the Caliphate' like the ones pictured above in an ISIS propaganda video
French Rafale fighter jets flying towards Syria. President Francois Hollande said six French warplanes hit an ISIS training camp near Deir Ezzor city on Sunday and that more strikes may follow in the coming weeks
Abdel Rahman said foreign ISIS fighters were also among the dead and that the strike had wounded around 20 people.
The raid took place in Syria's eastern province of Deir Ezzor, near the Albu Kamal border crossing used by ISIS to link the Syrian and Iraqi parts of its so-called 'caliphate'.
President Francois Hollande said on Sunday that six French warplanes hit an ISIS training camp near Deir Ezzor city and that more strikes could follow in the coming weeks.
'We struck militarily an extremely sensitive site for (ISIS),' said French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, describing it as a 'strategic hub' for militants travelling between Iraq and Syria.
It was France's first air strike in Syria as part of the US-led coalition fighting the extremist group there and in Iraq.
France was already bombing ISIS targets in Iraq and had carried out 215 of the nearly 4,500 air strikes there.
Kurdish fighters reclaim several villages in northern Iraq from Islamic State
Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq have recaptured several villages from Islamic State, official confirmed.
A ground offensive led by 3,500 forces recaptured several villages west of the city of Kirkuk and left at least 16 Kurdish peshmerga forces and dozens of IS fighters dead.
Backed by warplanes from the US-led coalition, the fourth operation of its kind in the Kirkuk area began at dawn and saw an area of 140 square kilometres (56 square miles) cleared.
A ground offensive led by 3,500 Iraqi Kurdish forces yesterday (pictured) recaptured several villages west of the city of Kirkuk, northern Iraq, and left at least 16 Kurdish peshmerga forces and dozens of ISIS fighters dead
Backed by warplanes from the US-led coalition, the operation began at dawn and saw 56 square miles cleared
Smoke rises during a military operation launched by Kurdish troops, known as peshmerga, to regain control of some villages from Islamic State west of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is 180 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq
'The offensive, launched from three fronts west of Kirkuk, included approximately 3,500 peshmerga,' the Kurdistan Region Security Council (KRSC) said in a statement.
The KRSC said coalition air strikes targeted 30 ISIS positions during the offensive, which peshmerga commanders said had achieved its goals.
The operation was aimed at tightening the noose on Hawija, an IS stronghold around 230 kilometres (140 miles) north of Baghdad and further protecting the autonomous Kurdish region from jihadist attacks.
The villages of Meziriya, Gubebe, Seda, Mohammed Khalil, Qows Kurd, Tal Ward, Khalef and Mansouria - all south of Kirkuk - were all purged of militants as a result of the operation.
A peshmerga major general said 16 Kurdish troops were killed during the operation and at least 32 wounded.
'We lost those peshmerga because of IEDs,' he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The operation was aimed at tightening the noose on Hawija, an ISIS stronghold around 230 kilometres (140 miles) north of Baghdad and further protecting the autonomous Kurdish region from jihadist attacks
Kurdish peshmerga fighters fire a heavy machine gun into the village of Mansoria during an offensive aimed at capturing 11 villages from the Islamic State near Kirkuk. The operation was backed by the U.S.-led coalition
Smoke billows from a house as Kurdish Peshmerga forces take up position during a military operation against militants of Islamic State (left), while a Kurdish peshmerga fighter (right) watches the smoke plumes from two large bombs dropped by coalition air support to suppress ISIS in the village of Mansoria earlier this afternoon
Kurdish peshmerga fighters travel in the back of a pickup truck armed with a heavy machine gun as they prepare to take part in an offensive to capture up to 11 villages from Islamic State militants near Kirkuk
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces enter a village as they capture the area after staging an operation in Kirkuk
'We did not lose anybody in clashes because Daesh (an Arab acronym for IS) was running away from us as we advanced,' he said.
Jaafar Sheikh Mustafa, the commander of peshmerga forces in Kirkuk, said 12 villages were retaken during the operation.
The US military said in a statement that 'coalition aircraft conducted more than 50 airstrikes in support of this operation'.
'Airstrikes against Daesh positions began several days before the ground operation in order to set favorable conditions for the Peshmerga by degrading Daesh's ability to fight,' it said.
Kurdish troops prepare to attack Islamic State group positions during a military operation west of Kirkuk
Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers hide behind a tank during a military operation against militants of Islamic State
Smoke rises during a military operation launched by Kurdish troops, which began at dawn in northern Iraq
The US military said that 'coalition aircraft conducted more than 50 airstrikes in support of this operation'
The villages of Meziriya, Gubebe, Seda, Mohammed Khalil, Qows Kurd, Tal Ward, Khalef and Mansouria - all south of Kirkuk - were all purged of Islamic State militants as a result of the operation throughout yesterday
'In the last four weeks, the Peshmerga have conducted three successful offensive operations against Daesh terrorists, returning more than 400 square kilometres (155 square miles) of territory to government control,' it also said.
Those areas are not part of the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq but have long been claimed by the Kurds.
When ISIS launched its major offensive across several Iraqi provinces in mid-2014, Kurdish forces moved into the vacuum left by retreating federal forces and expanded the territory under Kurdish control by an estimated 40 per cent.