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Top US military official: Russia has made it 'very clear' that it's not really in Syria to fight ISIS

Months into Russia’s campaign of air strikes in Syria, it’s become clear that ISIS isn’t the Russian military’s true target.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said at a briefing on Wednesday that at most, only 10% of Russian strikes are hitting the terrorist group ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, and Daesh) in Syria.

The vast majority of the strikes hit other groups fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has be known to drop barrel bombs on civilian areas.

“The Russians at this point have made it very clear that their offensive operations … are in support of Bashar al-Assad and his regime,” Warren said. “So when the regime is fighting, whoever the regime is fighting, that’s who gets struck.”

Russia only seems to hit ISIS when ISIS comes into contact with Syrian forces.

“Occasionally, the Syrian regime forces will find themselves in contact with ISIL,” Warren said. “And in those cases, we see the Russians striking ISIL. But it’s very limited. A fraction.”

While ISIS and Assad are on opposite sides of the fight for control in Syria, they have largely avoided each other on the battlefield so far.

Assad has something to gain from allowing ISIS to operate in certain areas because he’s portrayed those who are opposed to his regime as “terrorists.” ISIS’ strong presence in Syria bolsters Assad’s argument, and assisting ISIS in its fight against rebel forces helps get rid of the more moderate opposition fighters who threaten Assad’s power.

And Assad’s fight against non-terrorist rebel forces has had severe consequences for the people of Syria. Russia now appears to be aiding that fight.

Dozens of people starved to death in Madaya, Syria, after the government enacted a blockade in July to cut off access to nearby Damascus. Russia has supported Syrian denials of the humanitarian crisis in Madaya, saying that reports from the town contain “fake pictures” and “phony news,” according to the website Syria Deeply. The siege is ongoing.

Russian airstrikes have also reportedly hit hospitals, according to aid groups. Russia denies the claims.

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