New: Pentagon spokesman: "Only a fraction" of Russian airstrikes have targeted ISIS
Vladimir Putin says Russia isn't "striving for any kind of leadership over Syria"
Mortar rounds strike the Russian Embassy in Damascus on Tuesday, report says
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday his country’s involvement in Syria is helping protect the world.
“We are not striving for any kind of leadership over Syria. Syria can have only one leader – the Syrian people,” Putin said at a Moscow investment forum, according to Reuters.
“We aim at making a contribution in the fight against terrorism, which is dangerous for the United States, for Russia and for the European countries, and for the whole world without exaggeration.”
Russia surprised the world two weeks ago when it launched its first airstrikes in Syria.
The Russian airstrikes have been “reckless and indiscriminate” as well as “irresponsible,” U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday.
On Tuesday, two mortar rounds hit near the Russian Embassy in Syria’s capital during a pro-Russian rally, the Russian state-run news agency Sputnik International reported. It was not immediately clear if there were any injuries.
The Syrian state-run news agency SANA said the rally outside the embassy was a show of support by Syrians “expressing their thanks for Russia’s seriousness in fighting terrorism.”
Putin’s comments come as the United States and Russia fuel competing sides in Syria with more firepower.
Russia has been aiding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime faces dual threats: ISIS and rebels. Russia says it has been targeting ISIS, but many of its airstrikes have been directed at rebel-controlled areas.
The United States believes that “only a fraction” of the strikes have targeted ISIS, Warren said.
This week, the United States sent 50 tons of ammunition to rebel groups trying to topple Assad and four decades of his family’s rule.
Some observers, including Sen. John McCain, have described the ongoing escalation as a “proxy war” between the United States and Russia. The Arizona Republican sees it that way, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper last week, “Of course, it is.”
There’s a lot at stake in Syria – with more civilians dying every day and refugees fleeing to other countries. And there’s the threat of ISIS setting up even more terror hotbeds in the volatile country.
Here’s what the broader situation looks like now:
U.S. gives rebels tons of ammo
U.S. military cargo planes used an air drop of 112 pallets to deliver ammunition to rebels in northern Syria.
C-17s, accompanied by fighter escort aircraft, dropped small-arms ammunition and other items such hand grenades in Hasakah province to a coalition of rebels groups vetted by the United States, known as the Syrian Arab Coalition. Friendly forces successfully recovered all pallets, a U.S. official said.
U.S. attempt to train rebels falters
The United States launched a $500 million program to train and equip Syrian rebels – but doesn’t have much to show for it. The U.S. Defense Department announced Friday it will suspend the rebel training program.
“That was a complete and total failure for a plethora of reasons,” said CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon, who has reported from Syria.
“The U.S. was effectively dictating to these fighters, telling them they only wanted them to focus on the fight against ISIS. Whereas you speak to any Syrian, and they will tell you that they want to get rid of ISIS, yes, but they also want to be able to focus on the Syrian regime.”
This summer, Defense Secretary Ash Carter admitted the United States had only trained about 60 rebel fighters.
The low numbers are blamed on a strict vetting process that includes ensuring the fighters are committed to combat ISIS, as opposed to the Assad regime, and passing a counterintelligence screening.