Russia, Turkey conduct first joint airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria

by WorldTribune Staff, January 19, 2017

While each nation backs opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, Russia and Turkey carried out joint airstrikes on Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) targets on Jan. 18, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

Russian military spokesman Lt.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said nine Russian aircraft and eight Turkish planes were involved in the strikes on ISIL in the suburbs of the town of al-Bab, Aleppo province. Turkey suffered heavy casualties in al-Bab last month while battling the terror group’s jihadists on the ground.

Turkish F-16

Al-Bab, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Turkish border, has been the focus of a five-month Turkish-backed Syrian rebel campaign aimed at pushing back both ISIL and Kurdish forces.

Rudskoi said Russia deployed four Su-24s, four Su-25s and one Su-34 while Turkey sent four F-16s and four F-4s on the mission which hit 36 targets.

“The estimate of the first strikes against ISIL terrorists has shown that the joint actions of the Russian and Turkish aviation groups were highly effective,” Rudskoi said.

Turkey’s military was quoted by Reuters as saying Russia had carried out the airstrikes “in co-ordination with Turkey.”

Observers said it was highly unusual for Russia to conduct a joint operation with a member of NATO. Moscow intervened militarily in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2015, while Ankara has funded and armed Assad’s opponents.

Russia-Turkey relations were shattered on Nov. 24, 2015 when a Turkish F-16 fighter shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber while the Russian plane was on a mission in the Syrian border area. One of the crew was killed while the other was rescued.

After the incident, Moscow imposed sanctions which damaged the Turkish economy. The rift only ended after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly expressed regret for Turkey shooting down the Russian aircraft.