Syria crisis: Russian airstrikes against Assad enemies.

Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber (file photo)

Russia has begun carrying out air strikes in Syria against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.

The strikes reportedly hit rebel-controlled areas of Homs and Hama provinces, causing casualties.

The US says it was informed an hour before they took place.

Russian defence officials say aircraft targeted the Islamic State group, but an unnamed US official told Reuters that so far they did not appear to be targeting IS-held territory.

Syria’s civil war has raged for four years, with an array of armed groups fighting to overthrow the government.

The US and its allies have insisted that President Assad should leave office, while Russia has backed its ally remaining in power.


Russian fighter jets and helicopters at a military base in the government-controlled coastal Syrian city of LatakiaAnalysis: Jonathan Marcus, defence and diplomatic correspondent

Russia’s decision to intervene with its air power greatly complicates the Syrian crisis while probably offering little additional chance of a diplomatic resolution.

Russian sources indicate that Sukhoi Su-24 warplanes were involved, operating out of an airbase near Latakia.

There are serious questions about who exactly the Russian aircraft are targeting. US officials believe that the initial Russian strikes are not in IS-held territory, raising the possibility that Russian air power is being utilised more in the form of close air support for Syrian government forces against the multiple enemies of the Assad regime.

Of course, many of these enemies are supported by the West’s Arab allies or Turkey. The warning time given by the Russians to the Americans announcing the start of their operations may also raise some eyebrows, suggesting that much more detailed co-ordination may be needed in future to avoid incidents in Syrian airspace.


The upper house of the Russian parliament granted President Vladimir Putin permission to deploy the Russian air force in Syria.

The Russian defence ministry said the country’s air force had targeted IS military equipment, communication facilities, arms depots, ammunition and fuel supplies.

Syrian opposition activists said Russian warplanes had hit towns including Zafaraneh, Rastan ands Talbiseh, resulting in the deaths of 36 people, a number of them children.

None of the areas targeted were controlled by IS, activists said.

In a televised address, Mr Putin said the airstrikes were targeting Islamist militants – including Russian citizens – who have taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq.

“If they [militants] succeed in Syria, they will return to their home country, and they will come to Russia, too,” he said.

He added that Russia was not going to send ground troops to Syria, and that its role in Syrian army operations would be limited.

“We certainly are not going to plunge head-on into this conflict… we will be supporting the Syrian army purely in its legitimate fight with terrorist groups.”

Mr Putin also said he expected President Assad to talk with the Syrian opposition about a political settlement, but clarified that he was referring to what he described as “healthy” opposition groups.

A US defence official said: “A Russian official in Baghdad this morning informed US embassy personnel that Russian military aircraft would begin flying anti-Isil [IS] missions today over Syria. He further requested that US aircraft avoid Syrian airspace during these missions.”

US state department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “The US-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 [IS].”

map

Syria’s civil war

Homs city

What’s the human cost?

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and a million injured in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war.

And the survivors?

More than 11 million others have been forced from their homes, four million of them abroad, as forces loyal to President Assad and those opposed to his rule battle each other – as well as jihadist militants from IS and other groups. Growing numbers of refugees are going to Europe.

How has the world reacted?

Regional and world powers have also been drawn into the conflict. Iran and Russia, along with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, are propping up the Alawite-led government. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are backing the Sunni-dominated opposition, along with the US, UK and France.

Daesh launches first attack on Afghan government forces

KABUL, Afghanistan

Daesh launched its first attack on the Afghan security forces early Sunday with hundreds of fighters attacking police posts in eastern Nangarhar province, officials said.

Daesh, which emerged in Afghanistan in 2014 and has grown by imposing itself on the Taliban’s recruiting ground, attacked up to 10 posts in Achin district, around 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of capital Kabul.

District chief Haji Ghalib Mujahid said the attacks were launched simultaneously at 3 a.m. local time (2230GMT).

“Our forces managed to repel their attack but the fight is underway,” he told Anadolu Agency. Several militants have been reported killed and wounded while three Afghan soldiers were killed and eight others injured.

The attacks came just after the UN warned of Daesh’s growing presence in Afghanistan as a U.S.-led international security force looks to withdraw at the end of 2016.

Nicholas Haysom, UN’s envoy to Afghanistan, warned the group had established a “toehold” in Afghanistan.

Daesh has fought the Taliban repeatedly over territory in Nangarhar and targeted young men for membership in areas previously under the sway of the Taliban. The new group claims to have usurped the Taliban in five districts.

There are concerns that the emergence of Daesh could change the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan, where 13,000 foreign troops remain following the withdrawal of most last year.

Russia Surprises U.S. With Accord on Battling ISIS – The New York Times

UNITED NATIONS — For the second time this month, Russia moved to expand its political and military influence in the Syria conflict and left the United States scrambling, this time by reaching an understanding, announced on Sunday, with Iraq, Syria and Iran to share intelligence about the Islamic State.

Like Russia’s earlier move to bolster the government of President Bashar al-Assad by deploying warplanes and tanks to a base near Latakia, Syria, the intelligence-sharing arrangement was sealed without notice to the United States. American officials knew that a group of Russian military officers were in Baghdad, but they were clearly surprised when the Iraqi military’s Joint Operations Command announced the intelligence sharing accord on Sunday.

President Vladimir V. Putin will be speaking at the United Nations General Assembly for the first time in 10 years.Vladimir Putin of Russia to Focus on Syria at U.N.SEPT. 27, 2015
News Analysis: On Syria, Putin Is Catering to an Audience at HomeSEPT. 26, 2015
Spanish police officers arrested an 18-year-old Moroccan woman this month who was suspected of recruiting volunteers for ISIS.Thousands Enter Syria to Join ISIS Despite Global EffortsSEPT. 26, 2015
Syrians in a destroyed section of Douma, east of Damascus. Russia has offered to hold talks with the United States on Syria.Putin Sees Path to Diplomacy Through SyriaSEPT. 16, 2015
It was another sign that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was moving ahead with a sharply different tack from that of the Obama administration in battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by assembling a rival coalition that includes Iran and the Syrian government.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, met Sunday amid tensions between the countries. Credit Dominick Reuter/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The effort, which Mr. Putin is expected to underscore in his speech at the United Nations on Monday, not only puts Moscow in a position to give military support to Mr. Assad, its longtime ally in the Middle East, but could also enable the Kremlin to influence the choice of a successor if Mr. Assad were to eventually leave power.

Russia’s moves are raising difficult questions for the Obama administration, which remains deeply conflicted about American military involvement in the Syria conflict. Ensuring that the Russian military and the United States-led coalition, which is carrying out airstrikes against the Islamic State, “deconflict” and avoid running into each other is only part of the problem: The Obama administration and the Kremlin do not appear to agree even on the main reason for the conflict.

American officials, who have long cast Mr. Assad as the primary source of instability in Syria, assert that the Syrian leader’s brutal crackdown provided an opening for jihadist groups and that the crisis cannot be resolved until a political transition is negotiated that requires him to leave power. But Russian officials see the Syrian government as a bulwark against further gains by groups like Islamic State and Nusra Front and sometimes suggest that the defeat of the Islamic State should come before a negotiated solution for the Syrian conflict.

Even as the United States has banked on a diplomatic strategy of trying to enlist Russia’s cooperation in Syria, the Kremlin has continued to jolt the White House with its unilateral military and political moves.

“This is not yet coordinated,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday at the start of a meeting in New York with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. “Our presidents will be meeting tomorrow. This is the beginning of a genuine effort to see if there is a way to deconflict, but also to find a way forward that will be effective in keeping a united, secular Syria that can be at peace and stable again without foreign troops present, and that’s our hope.”

 

Robert S. Ford, the former American ambassador to Syria, said that Russian officials have long said they are not wedded to Mr. Assad but have insisted his government is legitimate and rebuffed efforts to impose a successor.

Adding to the United States’ concern, Russian surveillance drones have conducted about half a dozen reconnaissance missions from a recently bolstered base near Latakia. The drones have flown over Latakia, western Idlib, and western Hama, according to a senior United States official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments.

American analysts have not detected any Islamic State fighters in those areas, the official said. That raises the prospect that, despite its stated focus of fighting the Islamic State, Russia may take the opportunity to attack Syrian opposition fighters who are focused on battling Mr. Assad’s government and who are also backed by the United States.

Mr. Putin has been dismissive of the Pentagon program to train and equip the moderate Syria opposition — an effort that has yielded only a small handful of fighters. At the same time, new volunteers have been arriving to replenish the ranks of the Islamic State even more quickly than they are killed.

Graphic: ISIS Finances Are Strong
Through it all, the United States and some of its allies have focused on expanding an airstrike campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But the latest Russian moves in Syria have raised important questions about the American relationship with another crucial ally against the Islamic State: Iraq.

With about 3,500 American advisers, trainers and other military personnel in his country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq has cast himself as a vital member of the United States-led coalition to combat the Islamic State.

However, the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government, which has long been anxious that ousting Mr. Assad might strengthen the Islamic State, has also quietly enabled the Russian military buildup in Syria. While Bulgaria closed its airspace to Russian transport planes headed to Syria at the request of the United States, Iraq has allowed the Russian flights in its airspace.

“We did not violate any of our commitments toward the international community,” Ibrahim al-Jafari, Iraq’s foreign minister, said when he was asked about the Russian flights on Friday at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Iraqi military statement said that Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq would “participate in collecting information about ISIS terrorism,” an arrangement it said was important because of concerns that thousands of volunteers who have joined the Islamic State have come from Russia.

American officials sought to play down the significance of the agreement but objected to the Syrian government’s participation in the intelligence sharing.

“We do not support the presence of Syrian government officials who are part of a regime that has brutalized its own citizens,” Col. Steven H. Warren, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the American-led coalition, said.

But some experts say that Iraq’s response to the Russians reflects the fractured nature of decision-making in Baghdad, its attempt to navigate a middle ground between the United States and Iran and that the Iraqi government has a divergent reading of how to deal with Syria.

“Power and authority in Iraq have become increasingly diffused, with various players now exercising unilateral power over the use of force,” said Ramzy Mardini, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“Neutrality is the best Washington can hope for in Baghdad,” Mr. Mardini said. “Iraq is still a fragile state whose leaders are exposed to politics. In the discourse of Iraqi politics, forcing Abadi to side with the U.S. against Assad is like realigning him with the Sunni axis against the Shia one.”

France launches first airstrikes against ISIS in Syria – CNN.com

(CNN)The French military has carried out its first airstrikes against ISIS in Syria, according to a statement from the office of France’s presidency.

The country had announced earlier this month that it would expand its aerial campaign against ISIS in Iraq — which it began a year ago — to include the militant group’s positions in Syria.

The French president’s office said that the strikes in Syria, which began Sunday, were based on intelligence gathered from air surveillance operations conducted over Syria during the past two weeks.

“Our country confirms its firm commitment to the fight against the terrorist threat Daesh,” the statement said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. “We will strike whenever our national security is at stake.”

President Francois Hollande, speaking on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, described the camp as a “threat to our country.”

“We reached our goal and the whole training camp was destroyed,” Hollande said.

Six aircraft were used in the mission, which was led by the French but closely coordinated with the U.S.-led coalition, he said.

Despite the “horrible acts” committed by ISIS, Hollande placed the blame for the Syrian crisis on the country’s long time strongman Bashar al-Assad.

“Bashar al Assad is the main person at fault, although Daesh commits horrible acts,” Hollande said. “The future of Syria cannot happen with Bashar al Assad.”

String of terrorist attacks

France has been the site of a number of terrorist attacks this year.

Islamic extremists killed 17 people in a quick succession of attacks in Paris in January, including the shooting deaths of staff members in the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

In June, authorities said a man in southeastern France decapitated his boss, displayed the severed head with Islamist banners and also set off an explosion in a factory. And last month, three American men brought down a suspected terrorist gunman who tried to open fire on a train bound for France.

But France has also linked the refugee crisis Europe is facing in part to ISIS, saying it would strike the group for driving thousands of civilians out of Syria. “We’re not going to receive 4 to 5 million Syrians, so the problem has to be dealt with at source,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

France has been in talks with Russia about a political solution in Syria.

“Russia supports the regime of Bashar (al) Assad. But it also wants to find a political solution. And anyway, there will not be any political solution without a dialogue with all of the parties who directly or indirectly are involved with Syria,” Valls said.

France also planned to hold talks about Syria with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

 

Video: London Mosque fire: over 70 firefighters tackle blaze – Telegraph

Ten fire engines sent to Baitul Futuh mosque in south London to attend the fire

Source: Video: London Mosque fire: over 70 firefighters tackle blaze – Telegraph

A large fire has has broken out at a south London mosque.

There are 70 firefighters tackling the blaze at the Baitul Futuh mosque in Morden.

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) sent investigating officers and the incident has been referred to the police.

Thick black smoke rises from the Baitul Futuh mosque in south London (@Doggy_Boutique)

One man in his 40s has been taken to hospital after being treated for smoke inhalation.

A LFB spokesman said: “We have 10 fire engines and 70 firefighters there. The fire is affecting the building’s ground and first floors. It would be fair to say it is a large fire.”

A member of the public reported the blaze at 12.06 pm. The spokesman said it is too early to say what has caused the blaze.

A London Ambulance Service spokesman said: “We treated a male, reported in be in his 40s, with smoke inhalation and took him to St George’s Hospital as a priority.”

Roads have been closed in the suburban neighbourhood surrounding the mosque, which is thought to be one of the largest in Western Europe.

Transport for London said the A24, which feeds the busy Morden town centre, is shut both ways, northbound and southbound.

Trains are not stopping at Morden South railway station, which is near the mosque.

Smoke pours from the building (Storyful / Twitter / @Doggy_Boutiqe)

A Met Police spokesman said: “We were called to the scene to reports a fire at 12.18. Local road closures are in place.”

The mosque was built on the site of the old Express Dairies in 1999 for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community to provide people with a meeting place and somewhere to hold social religious events.

Deadly violence erupts in CAR over killing of Muslim – Al Jazeera English

At least 21 people have been killed and 100 wounded in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic. as Muslims attacked a mainly Christian neighborhood, medical officials and witnesses have said.

Saturday’s attack came after a Muslim man was killed and his body was found dumped in the street, witnesses and a Muslim group spokesman, Ousmane Abakar, told news agencies.

Two years of violence, which erupted after Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country in 2013, has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to leave their homes.

The fighting divided the country when Muslims were chased from the south.

There had not been any attacks in Bangui, which is secured by French and UN soldiers, for months until a grenade attack earlier in September.

In Saturday’s incident, angry Muslims left their stronghold in the 3rd district of Bangui and attacked the largely Christian Fifth district using automatic weapons.

Residents fled to other parts of the capital and attackers burned houses and cars, witnesses said.

UN helicopters, part of a peacekeeping force, flew overhead.