Russia said it launched air strikes against Islamic State in Syria on Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin secured his parliament’s unanimous backing to intervene to prop up the Kremlin’s closest Middle East ally.
Moscow gave Washington just an hour’s notice of the strikes, which set in train Russia’s biggest play in the region since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, a U.S. official said.
Targets in the Homs area appeared to have been struck, but not areas held by Islamic State, the U.S. official said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said however that its attacks were directed at Islamic State military targets.
Putin said the only way to fight “terrorists” in Syria was to act preemptively. Russia’s military involvement in the Middle East would only involve its air force and would be temporary.
The Homs area is crucial to President Bashar al-Assad’s control of western Syria. Insurgent control of that area would bisect the Assad-held west, separating Damascus from the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartous, where Russia operates a naval facility.
A U.S.-led coalition has already been bombing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but Putin derided U.S. efforts to end the Syria war at the United Nations on Monday, suggesting a broader and more coordinated coalition was needed to defeat the militants.
“The military aim of our operations will be exclusively to provide air support to Syrian government forces in their struggle against ISIS (Islamic State),” Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin’s Chief-of-Staff, said before reports that the strikes had begun.
Russia has been steadily dispatching…