US criticises Russia for 'worsening' Syria war
Washington's latest broadside against Russian intervention in Syria came as government troops, emboldened by Moscow's support over the past month, recaptured from the Islamic State group (IS, formerly ISIS) a key road into second city Aleppo.
Speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson said the offensives, backed by Russian air strikes, had displaced at least 120,000 people.
"Russia's military intervention has dangerously exacerbated an already complex environment," she said.
"Moscow has cynically tried to claim that its strikes are focused on terrorists, but so far, 85 to 90 percent of Syrian strikes have hit the moderate Syrian opposition and they have killed civilians in the process," Patterson said.
Civilians have died in Russian strikes on civil defence crews, hospitals, centres for displaced persons and ambulances, she claimed.
"We know that Russia's primary intent is to preserve the regime," she said.
Regime forces launched major offensives in several parts of Syria after Russia began its intervention on September 30, with more than 1,300 air strikes carried out so far.
"Despite our urging, Moscow has yet to stop the Assad regime's horrific practice of barrel bombing the Syrian people," Patterson said.
She said the situation called for a "full court press to end the war and get to a political settlement".
"The Russian deployments cannot be used to stiffen the Assad regime's resistance to a political transition."
A victory against the IS
A coalition including Syrian Arab groups regained a swath of territory in northeastern Syria from Islamic State group (IS) fighters, a US military spokesman said on Wednesday, calling it an encouraging success.
The fighters, from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and its Syrian Arab Coalition subgroup, regained 255 square kilometres near the town of al-Hawl, US military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said.
The group "conducted an attack... driving ISIL back," Warren said by videoconference from Baghdad, using an alternate acronym for the IS.
"This is not a large tactical action," he said, but "we are encouraged by what we saw."
The spokesman said the operation had pitted "well over a thousand friendly forces" against "several hundred enemies" in the vicinity, after heavy US airstrikes had cleared the way.
Warren said the US intended to "reinforce" the action, seeming to hint at further ammunition air drops to US-allied groups after those that took place last month.
The Syrian Democratic Forces were formed in mid-October as an alliance between the powerful Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and other Syrian rebel groups.
The US military has been struggling to show substantial results of its support for anti-IS forces.
The al-Hawl offensive was supported by 17 air strikes that included A-10s - an anti-tank aircraft often called the "Warthog" - and an AC-130 Spectre gunship, a ground attack plane, from Incirlik, Turkey, Warren said.
Meanwhile a coalition of Syrian rebels, including jihadis, seized the last government-held town on the main highway between second city Aleppo and the city of Hama to the south, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Jihadi group "Jund al-Aqsa and opposition groups have seized full control of the town of Morek after a fierce offensive," the monitoring group said.
Jund al-Aqsa hailed the victory on its Twitter account.
Russia deployed missiles to Syria
Meanwhile, Russia said it had sent missile systems to Syria to protect its military forces there, the head of Russia's air force said on Thursday.
Colonel General Viktor Bondarev said fighter jets could be hijacked in countries neighboring Syria and used to attack Russian forces.
"We have calculated all possible threats. We have sent not only fighter jets, bombers and helicopters, but also missile systems," Bondarev told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
"We must be ready."
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