The Los Angeles Times reports: One year ago, Russian planes started dropping bombs on war-torn Syria.
The airstrikes, which began Sept. 30, propped up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s collapsing government, which controlled an ever-shrinking area of the country after more than four years of civil war.
Dozens of warring groups opposed to Damascus — including moderates and jihadists such as Islamic State and the Al Qaeda-allied Nusra Front — were more concerned about fighting each other while government forces kept losing ground and morale. The area held by Assad’s forces had been reduced to territory along Syria’s west and the Mediterranean coast, with several tentacle-like strategic corridors in the central and northern parts of the country.
Russia’s involvement was a surprising game-changer. It reversed the momentum in the war and helped keep Assad in power. From the Russian perspective, it also put a spotlight on perceived American weakness — and certainly put the United States in an awkward position, since it shared the Russian goal of defeating Islamic State and Al Qaeda, but strongly opposed the larger goal of saving Assad.
One year in, however, the unanswered question is how long Russia will be bogged down in Syria — and whether it will achieve, at best, a hollow victory.
President Vladimir Putin explained Russia’s involvement in a nationally televised address the day after the strikes began.
“The best way to fight international terrorists … is to act preemptively, to fight and eliminate militants in the areas they have already occupied without waiting for them to enter our home,” he told his citizens.
Moscow deployed dozens of bombers and fighter jets and up to 4,000 military personnel. Within weeks, they were conducting up to 60 strikes a day, bombing Assad’s opponents of all stripes — and killing hundreds of civilians, human rights groups said.
A Syrian opposition monitoring group that tracks Syria’s civil war said a year of Russian airstrikes have killed 9,364 people in the war-torn country, the Associated Press reported.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead include 3,804 civilians, including 906 children. The dead also include 2,746 members of the Islamic State group and 2,814 from other rebel and militant groups, including Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. [Continue reading…]