By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, September 30, 2015 — Russian actions are intensifying the instability in Syria and making the civil war there more vicious, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said here today.
During a Pentagon news conference, Carter said the Russian position of supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its desire to take on extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant represent a contradiction.
“Fighting ISIL without pursuing a parallel political transition only risks escalating the civil war in Syria – and with it, the very extremism and instability that Moscow claims to be concerned about and aspire to fighting,” he said. “So that approach is tantamount … to pouring gasoline on the fire.”
The secretary restated the American position, saying that a lasting defeat of ISIL and its terrorist allies can be achieved only in parallel with a political transition in Syria. “We will continue to insist on the importance of simultaneously pursuing these two objectives,” he said. “And I would hope Russia would join us in pursuing these objectives.”
Conversation With Russian Defense Minister
Carter spoke with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu last week, when Russia’s intent to launch strikes in Syria became apparent. “During my phone call with Minister Shoigu, I also told him I was prepared to send a DoD team to meet with Russian defense counterparts, at a location that we agreed upon, to ensure that we avoid any inadvertent incidents over Syrian air space,” he said.
But Russian aircraft struck targets around Homs, Syria, this morning. A Russian officer notified personnel in the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad of the strikes an hour before they launched. No coalition aircraft were in the region at the time, and Carter said he doubts any ISIL terrorists were in the area struck.
Russian and coalition officers will meet in the next few days to “deconflict” air operations. The meeting will allow a flow of information between coalition forces and Russian elements to maintain the safety of U.S. personnel in the region, Carter said.
The meeting also will be an opportunity to ensure that any additional Russian actions do not interfere with the coalition’s efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL, he added.
Mission Against ISIL Will Continue
The secretary stressed that the more-than-60-nation coalition is battling ISIL “across the physical, virtual and ideological battle space,” conducting more than 7,100 air strikes at ISIL’s operational core and logistics arm. “The coalition will continue to fly missions over Iraq and Syria as planned, as we did today, in support of our international mission to degrade and destroy ISIL,” he said.
Carter said the U.S. talks with the Russians over Syria do not indicate a lessening of America’s strong condemnation of Russian aggression in Ukraine, nor do they change U.S. sanctions and security support in response to those destabilizing actions.
“On that subject, the facts remain: If Russia wants to end its international isolation and be considered a global power, it must stop its aggression in eastern Ukraine and its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, and live up to its commitments under the Minsk agreement,” he said.