Relations between the United States and Russia continued to publicly degrade on Tuesday, as a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry accused the United States of only pretending to fight the Islamic State in Iraq, while intentionally permitting their forces to funnel into Syria where they are engaged with Russian-backed Syrian forces.
Everyone sees that the U.S.-led coalition is pretending to fight Islamic State, above all in Iraq, but continuing to allegedly fight Islamic State in Syria actively for some reason,” said Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia’s defense ministry.
According to the Russian general, the United States began to “sharply reduce” the number of air strikes they executed against ISIS forces in Iraq in September, just as the Syrian Army, which is backed by Russian air support, began making significant strides toward retaking the Deir al-Zor province in Syria. That claimed slump in air strikes then resulted in a flow of Islamic State fighters over the Iraqi border and into the same province, bolstering the terrorist forces and slowing the Syrian/Russian offensive.
He then went on to accuse the United States of choosing to reduce their combat operations against ISIS specifically for the purpose of slowing the momentum of Bashar al-Assad’s troops in Syria.
The actions of the Pentagon and the coalition demand an explanation. Is their change of tack a desire to complicate as much as they can the Syrian army’s operation, backed by the Russian air force, to take back Syrian territory to the east of the Euphrates?” asked Konashenkov.
Russian diplomats have a history of making seemingly outrageous claims about the United States and its leadership, but in what would seem to be a bit of political theater, the general went on to suggest that the decision to limit air strikes may not have been an effort to sabotage the Syrian/Russian joint effort against ISIS, but instead that it may be because America hopes to take advantage of Russia’s comparative air superiority.
“Or is it an artful move to drive Islamic State terrorists out of Iraq by forcing them into Syria and into the path of the Russian air force’s pinpoint bombing?”
A perusal of the U.S. Department of Defense’ near daily updates on air strikes executed against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria shows a slight downturn in the number of daily strikes when comparing September, the month in question, to August, which could be construed as a basis for Konashenkov’s claims. In terms of averages, however, August and September both saw U.S. forces conducting nearly 30 air strikes per day. The air strikes were dispersed differently within each month. In August, daily air strikes often came with a higher tally, whereas September’s figures seem to show fewer strikes per day on most days, with significant outliers raising the average, such as September 18th, where a whopping 94 separate air strikes were executed against 126 different targets.
It seems unlikely, of course, that the Russian spokesman took the time to tally the individual strikes, and was instead commenting on the flow of reinforcements coming from Iraq, where U.S.-backed coalition forces have been capturing the few remaining ISIS strongholds in the nation over the span of recent months.
Image courtesy of the Russian Ministry of Defense