Russian Navy can strike ISIS positions in Syria anytime – general
Colonel General Andrey Kartapolov said the Russian warships in the Mediterranean can “definitely” be used to deliver strikes in Syria the way the Russian fleet in the Caspian Sea was already used.
“Our naval group in the Mediterranean is mostly used for supplying goals. But to ensure that our supply lines are not disrobed, we have a group of warships there too. This group also provides antiaircraft protection four our base [in Tartus],” he said in an interview to Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper published on Friday.
General Kartapolov heads Operations in the Russian general staff. He was personally supervising the creation of the so-called coordination center in Baghdad, which Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran created to share intelligence on terrorist forces and coordinate their war effort. The center plays a big part in fighting the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS or ISIL), the general told the newspaper.
“We realized that doing what the US-led coalition does and only bombing ISIL targets from the air would not allow defeating it. It requires doing things on the ground. The only force [in Syria] that can fight on the ground is the Syrian government army,” he said. “We also had to join the forces of the nations and forces fighting ISIL on the ground to coordinate our effort.”
He said the US was invited to take part in the center's work, but ignored it, apparently because of hurt pride.
“They see it humiliating to admit that they can't reach the goal they announced a year ago without Russia. They don't want anyone to say they have any dealings with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, whom they have been demonizing for years. And they don't appear to have the necessary intelligence on ISIL targets, as evidenced by the poor results of their airstrikes,” Kartapolov suggested.
The general said US airstrikes actually hurt the Syrian government more than IS, which probably explains why the militants expanded their territory in Syria over the year.
“The US-led coalition is targeting ISIL infrastructure. Bridges, tunnels, power stations, water pumps. This didn't hurt ISIL much, but made life harder for President Assad's troops. In fact they hurt the military capabilities of the Syrian Army,” he said.
“The government forces retreated because their supplies were inadequate, they didn't have enough water, food or heating. ISIL was buying supplies in neighboring countries or were receiving deliveries from certain organizations and nations, which we shall not name. Hence the result.”
Kartapolov said the capabilities of IS should not be underestimated, since they have both skills and equipment to do serious damage on the battlefield.
“ISIL has many former officers of Saddam Hussein's army. They had to retire after the Americans defeated and occupied Iraq. They may be called patriots fighting against this. It was a bad choice to join ISIL, but that's their choice,” he explained. “Those officers have good skills and knowledge, they are able to organize and train people. So certain units there are pretty good.
“Plus, they captured plenty of weapons from the Iraqi Army, which our American partners had supplied. They have Abrams M1 tanks, APCs, artillery and lots of other stuff. Don't imagine that ISIL are a bunch of common bandits, ruffians with rifles and long daggers that known only how to behead people. They know how to do war.”
Nevertheless Russia's involvement in the Syrian conflict has turned the tide and forced IS to change its tactics, Kartapolov said.
“The terrorists are abandoning their positions, retreating and trying to hide in areas with difficult terrain, in caves and mountains. They are also taking cover in mosques and hospitals. We demonstrated footage showing how they do that. They are also trying to mix with civilians,” he said.
“Certainly, this inspires the government forces, which are now on the offensive. One Syrian general told us that what our warplanes do made Syrian children smile again,” he added.
The general said that the situation may further change of so-called moderate rebels in Syria agree to join forces with the Assad army and fight alongside them against the jihadists.
“We are ready to work with them. Let them come to Baghdad and become part of the coordination committee,” he said. Kartapolov however is skeptical about the actual strength of the moderate rebel forces in Syria, saying that many groups claiming to be them are actually common criminals.
“Those folks rob, loot and fight for turf. When they need foreign money, they declare that they are fighting against the Assad regime. But once they get the money they use it as they please. You know, we asked – show us who exactly the moderate opposition are,” he explained.
Kartapolov said the Russian military is capable of extending the Syrian operation to Iraq, but that would require an official invitation from Baghdad to do so and a positive decision by the Russian government. He said in the long run Russia may end up having one massive military base in Syria, which would be shared by the Navy, the Air Forces and the Ground Forces.