U.S. Official: Few Russian Strikes in Syria Are Against IS

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -
A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia's Defence Ministry December 4, 2015, shows air strikes carried out by Russia's air force hitting a training camp, which, according to the ministry, is controlled by the Islamic State militants, in Aleppo in Syria. Russia's air force flew 431 sorties and hit 1,458 "terrorist targets" in Syria in the week of Nov. 26 - Dec. 4, Russian news agencies quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying on Friday. REUTERS/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. IT IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
A frame grab taken from footage released by Russia’s Defence Ministry Dec. 4, 2015, shows air strikes carried out by Russia’s air force hitting a training camp, which, according to the ministry, is controlled by the Islamic State terrorists, in Aleppo in Syria. (Reuters/Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation/Handout via Reuters)

Only a third of Russia’s air strikes in Syria are targeting Islamic State and its imprecise attacks are forcing the population to flee, fueling Europe’s refugee crisis, a senior U.S. official said on Saturday.

Of the 5,000 air strikes carried out by Russia since it began its air offensive in Syria on Sept. 30, about 70 percent hit rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, rather than supporting the efforts of the U.S-led coalition, the official told reporters in Brussels.

Rescue workers and rights groups say Russia’s bombing in Syria has killed scores of civilians at busy market places and in residential areas. Russia denies this.

The Kremlin launched its air strikes saying it wanted to help Assad, its main Middle East ally, defeat Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

“We are not convinced of what the Russian intentions are,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

“For a while, very few strikes were going against ISIL and after a lot of public condemnation they turned a number of strikes against ISIL,” the official said, referring to Islamic State, the terrorist group that controls territory in Syria and Iraq.

The U.S. official said Russia used fewer precision-guided munitions than the United States and its allies.

“The Russian strikes that are not precise cause me great concern because I think there is an indirect correlation to the refugee flow,” the official said. “It is not just the pressure it is putting on NATO and the EU, it is also the humanitarian cost,” the official said.

Amnesty International said last month that Moscow’s actions had violated humanitarian law. Amnesty estimates at least 200 civilians were killed by Russian air strikes between Sept. 30 and Nov. 29, which Russia denies.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has repeatedly denied targeting civilians, saying it takes great care to avoid bombing residential areas.

Syria’s civil war which began in 2011 has driven 4.4 million Syrians into neighboring states from where many are trying to reach Europe.