Fresh airstrikes from Turkey reportedly targeted civilians and a group of foreign reporters in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ayn, according to monitoring groups and Syrian Kurdish officials.
The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said the airstrike killed at least nine people – including five civilians on Sunday, while other reports claimed that the convoy included foreign journalists, according to Haaretz.
A spokesman for the Kurdish forces put the death toll at 11 killed and more than 74 injured, but it was not immediately clear how many were civilians.
The withdrawal order comes as Turkish forces are pushing further south into Syria.
In a major U.S. policy shift, American troops are pulling back to make way for Turkey’s planned invasion of part of northern Syria. Turkey is targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters that have been key American allies in the fight against ISIS. The abrupt change follows a phone call Sunday night between President Trump and Turkey’s president. Holly Williams reports.
The order from the Kremlin came as the United Nations was trying to revive peace talks to stop the conflict, which has created a humanitarian catastrophe.
Vladimir Putin has reportedly added drones, attack helicopters and aircraft to its force in Syria in recent weeks
Russia rapidly increased its aerial attack capabilities in Syria over the weekend, U.S. officials told Agence France-Presse on Monday, including 28 combat planes that have been sighted at a new Russian air base in the Syrian province of Latakia.
The fleet includes 12 SU-24 attack aircraft, 12 SU-25 ground attack aircraft and four Flanker fighter jets, the officials told the news agency on condition of anonymity. An influx of new weaponry was also reported separately by the New York Times and CNN.
One of the officials told AFP of the additional presence of around 20 combat helicopters and said Russian forces are flying surveillance drones over the Middle Eastern nation’s airspace.
According to the Times, Russia’s military presence in Syria also includes at least three surface-to-air missiles, nine tanks and around 500 marines.
“The equipment and personnel just keep flowing in,” another official told the Times. “They were very busy over the weekend.”
Reports of the new aircraft emerged soon after U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter held talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu on Friday. They discussed concerns that the two forces might inadvertently clash with each other as a U.S.-led coalition continues its air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militant group.
The U.S. and other Western powers fundamentally differ with Moscow on the role of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, believing he must step down in order for his country to emerge from civil war. Russia, on the other hand, is one of the Assad regime’s most prominent allies and has defended its military assistance to the Syrian army.
U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby said during a press briefing on Monday that he was “not in a position to independently verify” the reports of Russian aircraft and drones.
“If Russia looks to play a constructive role against [ISIS], that’s one thing, but if what they’re doing is, in fact, propping up the Assad regime, then that’s an entirely different issue altogether,” Kirby added, “because it is the Assad regime that has been a magnet for extremists inside Syria.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 56 soldiers were killed in the Abu Zuhour air base that was captured by the Nusra Front and other militant groups on Sept. 9.
Mohammed Kanaan, an activist based in Syria, said the Nusra Front shot dead 45 soldiers, adding that the “executions” took place Friday on a runway in the air base.
The capture of the Abu Zuhour base was the latest in a series of setbacks for President Bashar Assad in Syria’s bitter civil war, now in its fifth year. Syria’s embattled president has acknowledged the losses, saying the army has had to relinquish some areas in the north to be able to better defend core areas seen as more critical to the government.
The capture of Abu Zuhour also made Idlib the second of Syria’s 14 provinces to completely fall out of Syrian army control. Earlier this year, militant groups captured the provincial capital, also called Idlib, as well as other towns and villages.
The Observatory said the latest killings raise to 71 the number of government forces that have been killed since the capture of the air base.
The Nusra Front, which is a top rival of the Islamic State group, and other Islamic insurgents now control nearly all of Idlib province, except for the predominantly Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya, which pro-government militiamen hold.
Nusra Front fighters and their allies began a large offensive against the two villages on Friday, deploying at least seven suicide bombers and firing hundreds of shells into Foua and Kfarya, according to the activists and the Nusra Front’s Twitter account.
The Nusra Front released photos from the outskirts of the villages showing what it said were fortifications that were captured by the militants.
A battle between Islamic State group jihadists and rebels for control of an opposition stronghold in northern Syria has killed at least 47 fighters, a monitor said today.
Twenty Islamist and other rebel fighters were killed in the clashes in Aleppo province throughout yesterday, along with 27 IS jihadists, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The fighting centred on the town of Marea, a key rebel bastion that IS has been trying to capture for months.
The Observatory said fighting was ongoing around the town, which rebel forces still control, as well in villages in the surrounding area.
Marea is one of the most significant rebel-held towns in northern Aleppo and lies on a key supply route running to the Turkish border.
IS has targeted the town for months, seeking to expand westwards from territory it already holds in Aleppo province.
Last week, IS advanced in the area, seizing five villages from rebel forces around Marea after allegations it had used a chemical agent, possibly mustard gas, in its attacks.
The IS advances came despite an agreement between Turkey and the United States to work on the establishment of an IS-free zone in northern Aleppo.
In recent days, the US-led air campaign fighting IS in Syria has carried out strikes against the group near Marea, according to the Pentagon.
More than 240,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with peaceful anti-government protests.
It has evolved into a complex multi-front war, with regime and rebel forces as well as Kurds and jihadists involved in the fighting.
From a Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve News Release
SOUTHWEST ASIA, July 9, 2015 – U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today.
Officials reported details of the latest strikes, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports.
Airstrikes in Syria
Bomber, fighter-attack and remotely piloted aircraft conducted seven airstrikes in Syria:
— Near Bukamal, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL vehicle.
— Near Aleppo, two airstrikes struck two ISIL tactical units, destroying an ISIL vehicle and two ISIL bunkers.
— Near Raqqah, an airstrike struck 20 ISIL staging areas.
— Near Kobani, two airstrikes struck an ISIL large tactical unit and an ISIL tactical unit, destroying two ISIL fighting positions and three ISIL structures.
— Near Tal Abyad, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed three ISIL fighting positions.
Airstrikes in Iraq
Attack, fighter-attack, bomber and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 14 airstrikes in Iraq, approved by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense:
— Near Baghdadi, two airstrikes denied ISIL a tactical advantage and suppressed ISIL sniper fire. — Near Huwayjah, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL checkpoint.
— Near Fallujah, three airstrikes struck two ISIL tactical units, destroying an ISIL mortar, an ISIL tunnel entrance, an ISIL fighting position, an ISIL recoilless rifle and two ISIL bunkers.
— Near Haditha, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL vehicle bomb.
— Near Kirkuk, an airstrike struck three ISIL staging areas.
— Near Makhmur, two airstrikes destroyed an ISIL building and eight ISIL vehicles.
— Near Mosul, an airstrike destroyed an ISIL building.
— Near Ramadi, an airstrike struck two ISIL excavators.
— Near Sinjar, one airstrike struck an ISIL large tactical unit and an ISIL tactical unit, destroying an ISIL heavy machine gun, two ISIL vehicles and an ISIL command-and-control node.
— Near Tal Afar, an airstrike struck an ISIL tactical unit, and destroyed an ISIL bunker.
Part of Operation Inherent Resolve
The strikes were conducted as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, the operation to eliminate the ISIL terrorist group and the threat they pose to Iraq, Syria, the region, and the wider international community. The destruction of ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq further limits the terrorist group’s ability to project terror and conduct operations, officials said.
Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Iraq include the United States, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Coalition nations conducting airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Bahrain, Canada, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.