OSSETIA, Russia, Nov. 18 (UPI/Shawn Price) ─ Russian airplanes destroyed 14 Islamic State targets in Syria on Tuesday in one of its largest airstrikes in decades, Russia’s Ministry of Defence said.From a base in southern Russia, warplanes including 25 Backfire, Bear and Blackjack bombers dropped air-launched cruise missiles against more than a dozen Islamic State — also called ISIS or ISIL — targets overnight in what represents a major escalation of Russian military involvement in Syria.The raid comes on the same day the head of Russian security announced a bomb brought down the Metrojet Russian passenger plane that crashed near Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board. The government is offering a $50 million reward for information about those responsible for the crash.It also comes a day after President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron urged Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit to focus airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria. Both U.S. and British governments were notified ahead of the strikes.Gen. Valery Gerasimov called the attack part of “a new plan [for] the air campaign.”
“During a massive airstrike today, 14 important ISIL targets were destroyed by 34 air-launched cruise missiles,” said Gerasimov, chief of Russia’s general staff. “The targets destroyed include command posts that were used to coordinate ISIL activities in the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo, munition and supply depots in the northwestern part of Syria.”
What was not clear is how much the airstrikes were focused on IS targets and not a continuation of the bombing of regions held by U.S.-backed rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The topic has been a sticking point in U.S.-Russian relations since the Russian air campaign started six weeks ago in support of Assad.
“The Russian General Staff has developed a new plan of the air campaign [in Syria] which envisions deployment of 25 strategic bombers, eight Su-34 Fullback attack aircraft, and four Su-27 Flanker fighter jets,” Gerasimov said.
The jet-powered and swing-wing Backfires are said to carry unguided, or “dumb” bombs. The propeller-driven Bear and jet-powered, swing-wing Blackjack are the biggest combat planes built. All three have a range of thousands of miles carrying at least 20 tons of weaponry, capability similar to U.S. and Chinese warplanes.