Showing posts with label Russian Air&Navy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russian Air&Navy. Show all posts

November 4, 2016

Russian Ghost Soldiers Dying for Real in Syria






The start of this year proved deadly for one unit of about 100 Russian fighters supporting President Bashar al-Assad's troops in northern Syria.

On Feb. 3, 38-year-old Maxim Kolganov was killed in a firefight with rebels near Aleppo when a bullet pierced his body armor and heart. Then, on March 9, the same unit came under shell-fire near Palmyra, and Sergei Morozov, also 38, was hit and died on the way to hospital.

Back in southern Russia, medals were delivered to their families: the order of bravery, with certificates signed by President Vladimir Putin. The medals, seen by Reuters, were intended to honor the sacrifice they had made for their country.

Except Kolganov and Morozov were not employed by the Russian state. They were in Syria as private contractors, a small part of an army of such people who are being deployed secretly by the Kremlin in Syria.

The deaths of Kolganov and Morozov, and others like them, have not been made public. Families say they were given little information and told not discuss the cases. In at least one case that Reuters uncovered, the family of a fighter killed in Syria received a payout of around $100,000 in compensation.

Officially, Russia is participating only in an air war over Syria with a small number of special forces on the ground. Moscow denies that its troops are involved in regular ground combat operations.

However, in interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of these deployments, Reuters has established that Russian fighters are playing a more substantial role in ground combat than that the role the Kremlin says is being played by the regular Russian military.

The sources described the Russian fighters as contractors or mercenaries, hired by a private company, rather than regular troops. But despite their unofficial status, according to these accounts, they operate in coordination with the Russian military and are given privileges back home normally available only to serving soldiers.

They fly to Syria on board Russian military aircraft which land at Russian bases. When they are injured, they are treated in hospitals reserved for the Russian military and get state medals, people interviewed by Reuters said.

Reuters was not able to determine the precise number of such Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria, nor the total number of casualties they have sustained, but three people familiar with the deployments said there were many units of a similar size to the one that included Kolganov and Morozov.

Neither the Kremlin nor the defense ministry responded to questions from Reuters. Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Syrian officials on the question of Russian mercenaries.

Reuters was not able to identify the company or companies that hired the fighters, or the source of any payments to the fighters or their families.

 

THE KREMLIN'S BIDDING

Under Russian law, it is illegal to work as a private military contractor in another country. However, Russian citizens have participated in wars across the former Soviet Union throughout the 25 years since it broke up in 1991.

In 2014, large numbers of Russians fought openly on behalf of pro-Moscow separatists in Ukraine. Western countries say those rebel units were organized, paid and armed by Moscow; the Kremlin says any Russians there were independent volunteers.

Last year, Russia joined the war in Syria, its first conflict outside the borders of the former Soviet Union since the Cold War. Word got out among veterans of the Ukraine conflict that mercenaries were needed.

According to three people who knew Morozov and Kolganov, both had fought in Ukraine as part of the same unit that would eventually take them to Syria. It was led by a man who goes by the nomme de guerre "Vagner", who has become a leader of Russian mercenary forces in Syria, one of the sources said.

Little is known of his real identity. Two of Vagner's comrades say he had already traveled to Syria as a mercenary in 2013, before commanding his group of Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine. He then headed back to Syria, where Russia began its intervention in Sept. 2015.

A Russian-language website, Fontanka, has published what it says is the only known photo of him, a picture of a bald man in military fatigues striding near a helicopter. The website said his name was Dmitry Utkin. Reuters could not verify the image or the name.

One Ukrainian rebel commander who was close to the Vagner group in eastern Ukraine said many of the fighters there were tempted to fight in Syria because they had found it difficult to return to civilian life.

"I meet them now and see how much they have changed. I simply have nothing to discuss with them. They can't imagine any other life but war. That's why they go fight in Syria."

Morozov, the fighter who was killed near Palmyra, had returned from Ukraine to his home in southern Russia and dabbled in local politics.

He served as an aide to a member of parliament originally from his native city of Samara, Mikhail Degtyaryov. Degtyaryov told Reuters Morozov was a friend and confirmed that he had died in combat during the battle for Palmyra.

"Kapa", a former Russian officer and volunteer in the Ukraine conflict who asked to be identified only by a nomme de guerre, was friends with Morozov and also knew Kolganov and several other Russians who fought in Ukraine and went on to fight in Syria with the Vagner group. He is still in contact with some of them.

He said Morozov became frustrated when he attended a meeting of the far-right LDPR party, and no one listened to him. Morozov gave up lucrative business ventures to rejoin his Vagner comrades in Syria, Kapa said.

According to Kapa, Russian veterans of the Ukraine fighting were recruited for ground combat in Syria when it became clear that Syrians would not be able to hold ground without help, despite Russian air support.

"The Arabs are not warriors by nature, but are thrown together and told to storm high ground. They don't know how to storm it let alone conquer their instincts and move towards the bullets. How can you make them do it? Only by setting yourself as an example," Kapa said. "That's why our guys reinforced their units."

Asked if fighters in the group coordinated with the Russian defense ministry, Kapa said: "Of course".

According to two people who knew different fighters, they arrive in Syria via ships that land in the port of Tartous, leased by the Russian navy, or in military aircraft that land at Russia's Hmeymim air base in western Syria.

A doctor at a Russian military hospital told Reuters the wounded are evacuated to Russia on board military cargo planes and then treated in military hospitals.

The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared losing his job, said he had personally treated contractors injured in Syria, whose role there was clear from their conversations.

His hospital is officially meant to admit only serving military personnel, their family members or veterans who have served long careers in the military, a category his patients were too young to fit, the doctor said. 

When Morozov and Kolganov were killed, their bodies were flown to Russia aboard military aircraft and delivered to a morgue used by the military in the southern city of Rostov, according to relatives and Morozov's friend Kapa.

A Reuters reporter saw the Order of Courage which was given posthumously to Kolganov. It was delivered to his family home in Togliatti, a city on the Volga river, by someone in civilian clothes who did not identify himself, according to relatives. Reuters has also seen a photograph of Morozov's Order of Courage, dated Sept. 7, 2016.

 

SECRECY

Kolganov never told his relatives where he was deployed, but pictures he sent contained clues. One of them, in which he posed under an orange tree, is now on the wall of his parents' house.

The family got proof he was in Syria only after his death, when they saw his passport with a Syrian stamp in it.

The people who informed the family by phone of his death, and the people who turned over the body in the Rostov morgue, did not explain where he was killed or who he had been working for, the relatives said. The people they interacted with did not identify themselves and told the family not to talk to reporters, the relatives said.

In another case, a 55-year-old Russian woman said her husband was killed this year while working as a military contractor in Syria. She did not want her name, or her husband's, to be published because she feared reprisals.

"They only told me about it after his death. A young man ... phoned and told me. And he also threatened me, so I would never tell anyone about it," she said. "They are scary people."

By contrast, Russian authorities do acknowledge some combat deaths among serving military personnel, though often with a delay and without keeping an official tally.

Reuters was unable to determine how many Russians have died in Syria. According to Kapa, the small unit that included Kolganov and Morozov has lost four fighters since the start of the Russian campaign in Syria, including its commander, killed in the same firefight as Morozov. Dozens have been wounded.

Reuters earlier reported that Russian major Sergei Chupov was killed in Syria on Feb. 8 He also belonged to the Vagner group, a person who knew him told Reuters.

The doctor at the military hospital who spoke to Reuters said that the surgical department where he works had treated six or seven Russian fighters back from Syria with combat injuries who were not serving Russian servicemen.

The overall number of wounded contractors treated at his hospital could be a few times higher, the doctor said. He also says he knows of at least two more hospitals in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg where contractors are treated.

 Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev | TOGLIATTI, RUSSIA

January 30, 2016

Russian Airstrikes Killed 200 Civilians in Syria No Outcries from the Usual People When is the US


When the US has drone collateral damage it makes the newspapers and there demonstrations around the world. The silence after Russia does the same thing is very loud. May be the people Russia kills are less people?? I don’t know.



Amnesty International added to the criticism of Russia's air campaign in Syria with a new report Wednesday saying the bombings have killed at least 200 civilians in Homs, Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
The rights group said the Russian airstrikes have hit homes and hospitals, and that its research showed there were no fighters or military targets nearby.
"Some Russian airstrikes appear to have directly attacked civilians or civilian objects by striking residential areas with no evident military target and even medical facilities, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians," Amnesty Middle East and North Africa Program Director Philip Luther said. "Such attacks may amount to war crimes."
Amnesty also said it had evidence Russia used banned cluster munitions and unguided bombs.
FILE In this photo taken from Russian Defense Ministry official web site on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, Russian military support crew inspect missiles attached to their jet at an air base in Syria. at an air base Hmeimim in Syria.
 Oct. 6, 2015, Russian military







A Russian defense  spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, denied the Amnesty allegations. He said nothing new or concrete was published, "only cliches and fakes that we have already repeatedly exposed."
Syrian campaign
Russia launched a major military air campaign over Syria in late September as part of an effort to support President Bashar al-Assad. Russia has said it is targeting Islamic State, but it has faced widespread criticism that its strikes have focused largely on opposition group sites.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday stepped up his criticism of Russia for targeting civilians sites and moderate opposition fighters.  During a meeting with lawmakers, he condemned what he said were deadly Russian airstrikes Sunday in the rebel-held northwest city of Idlib.
Tensions between Russia and Turkey mounted late last month after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet that Ankara said had strayed into its territory near the Syrian border. Russia denies the charge.
Syrian opposition groups also blamed Russia for the strikes in Idlib, which they said killed more than 40 people, many of them civilians.
A separate U.S.-led coalition, which includes Turkey, has been targeting Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.
In reference to Russia’s alleged responsibility for Sunday’s deadly strikes in Idlib, a senior State Department official said it was not for the U.S. or the U.S. coalition to investigate claims of collateral damage by Russian aircraft.
“The Russians should speak to what they are doing, what they are hitting, what they are missing,” the official said.
'Credible allegations'
The official added that U.S. authorities had evidence showing that some Russian airstrikes had not been “as precise” and had received “credible allegations” of Russian strikes hitting facilities such as hospitals and schools and killing or wounding innocent people.
“I assume that the Russians would not intentionally target a civilian site. That is a war crime,” said Daniel Serwer, a conflict management professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He said, however, that Russia was less concerned about collateral damage in Syria.
“I think the long and short of it is that they just don’t worry as much about hitting civilians [in Syria] as Americans do,” Serwer said.
Although Russia and the United States are involved in separate air campaigns over Syria, both countries are part of the International Syria Support Group, which has been working to foster a political transition in Syria. 
Last Friday, the United Nations Security Council endorsed a plan by the group. It includes U.N.-mediated talks between the Syrian government and moderate opposition, a cease-fire, and the establishment of a transitional government followed by elections within 18 months.
Russian airstrikes, such as what may have occurred in Idlib, could slow this U.N.-led process, said Mark Katz, of George Mason University’s School of Policy, Government and International Affairs.
“If they are behind it or if they are even perceived to be behind it, then I think that other parties are going to question the seriousness of Russia’s commitment to the U.N. process,” Katz said.
Russia reaction
Last week, the Russian Defense Ministry addressed criticism about its air campaign in Syria.
In a statement last Wednesday, the Ministry said it had constantly faced criticism from "several representatives of the so-called 'anti-ISIS coalition.' "
It said, the more “precise” the Russian strikes, the more “clamor” had been observed in foreign mass media sources.

voanews.com
Mike Richman and Chris Hannas contributed to this report from Washington.

November 3, 2015

The Navy Wrestles with Expanding Forces due to Russia’s Expanding Sub Force




                                                                 

U.S. leaders are increasingly worried that Russia's submarines could sever the communication arteries that drive global commerce.
The communications cables criss-cross tens of thousands of miles of ocean to relay Internet and phone data between continents. The concerns arose in September, when a Russian spy ship armed with two unmanned submersibles was detected in the vicinity of the cables,according to an Oct. 25 article in The New York Times.
The Russian operation has brought discussions normally held in classified settings to the fore: How can the U.S. Navy safeguard thousands of miles of critical infrastructure? It's a vexing issue  at a time when the Navy's forces are stretched thin in the Middle East and while confronting emerging near-peer competitors  like Russia and China.
Navy leaders are starting to raise the alarm about this potential choke point, and the solution they propose is autonomous underwater systems.
The head of the nuclear Navy said that the Navy needed to invest heavily in unmanned underwater systems to protect undersea infrastructure.
"The necessity exists because of challenges we face from potential adversaries," said Adm. Frank Caldwell Jr., head of Naval Reactors, in an October briefing. "It exists because of the submarine [building] hiatus we took in the 1990s and the impending dip [in] force structure we'll have late in the 2020s ... and we may be called upon in the future to protect undersea infrastructure, something we haven't really considered before."
"You add all these up, I think there is an imperative to move forward more swiftly in this unmanned realm," he said.


To be sure, the vulnerability of undersea cables isn't a new concern in warfare. The Royal Navy severed German transoceanic cable lines in the opening days of World War I, impairing their secure communications. And the U.S. submarine Parche famously tapped Soviet military cables in 1979, among the foremost known feats of the Cold War.
"Russians taking an interest in our submarine cables — it's not a new thing," said Bryan Clark, a retired submarine officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. "But people are realizing the volume of traffic that goes over submarine cables now, relative to where it was in the Cold War."
The cables themselves are most vulnerable near the continental shelf, where the landmass drops suddenly to depths that make them more difficult to access or cut, Clark said. And while day-to-day protection of the cables is the responsibility of the telecom companies that lay and operate them, the Navy would need to protect them against an imminent threat.
It would be virtually impossible to defend thousands of miles of cables, but submarine bosses say it's possible to protect critical nodes. That can be done increasingly with unmanned systems, rather than using already busy attack boats.
"We don't have to know everything everywhere," said retired Vice Adm. Michael Connor, former head of Submarine Forces at an Oct. 27 House Subcommittee hearing. "But there are places where you would like to have very good knowledge.. We have critical things we want to protect, like some of the undersea infrastructure that is so critical to our economy."
"There may be places we decide we want to have some volume of systems and that relatively small area around that infrastructure where you would have sufficient vehicles to obtain perfect knowledge," he said.
Experts say that technology under development could help protect important cable nodes. Upward Falling Payload modules under development by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency could be placed on the seabed nearby and, when an intrusion or threat is detected, could pop to the surface and inform operators of the attack, said Alan Beam, who headed DARPA’s UUV division in the 1990s. 
Combating the threat to the cables is a tough nut to crack, and the Russians are a formidable adversary in the undersea realm, an area where they have invested money consistently even after the fall of the Soviet Union, said a retired submarine skipper who now works in the submarine industry.
The sonar nets and undersea surveillance systems that were so effective at tracking Russian subs in the Cold War likely prompted Russia to invest in autonomous underwater vehicles and seabed systems to get around U.S. defenses because unmanned underwater systems are so hard to track.
"Protecting any system against an autonomous unmanned undersea vehicle would be extremely difficult," the retired captain said in an email. "These vehicles are propelled by quiet, battery powered electric motors — they have almost no acoustic signature.  In addition, they are physically small and would not provide a large return if active sonar was used to search for them."
Given the difficulties involved in protecting cables, it will be important to invest in additional, secret infrastructure, said retired Adm. James G. Stavridis, in an op-ed in The Huffington Post.
"We need to build more resiliency and redundancy into the underwater cable network," wrote Stavridis, who served as NATO's top military commander. "It is far too vulnerable to sabotage, especially at the terminals where the cables are in relatively shallow water. We need more ‘dark cables' that are not operational but kept in reserve."
Navy Times also pics

October 15, 2015

Russian, US Fighters on Near Miss Over Syria



                                                                          
 Inside Cockpit of US Fighter a Russian plane is scoped {telegraph.co.uk}

Russian defence officials say they are getting closer to a deal with the US on air safety in Syria, after aircraft from both countries flew within miles of each other last weekend.
The US Pentagon said “progress was made" in the third round of such talks.

Russian and US combat aircraft were in visual contact with each other, 10 to 20 miles (15-30km) apart, on Saturday.
Russian began air strikes in Syria on 30 September, saying it was targeting Islamic State (IS) militants.

But Western countries and Syrian activists say Russian planes have been hitting non-IS targets - a claim Moscow denies.
“Positions became closer on key provisions of the future document [on air safety]," the defence ministry said in a statement reported by Russian news agencies.

A US official told Reuters news agency that military officials from both sides were finalising a memorandum of understanding setting out basic air safety procedures over Syrian airspace.
In a statement, the Pentagon described talks as “professional and focused narrowly on the implementation of specific safety procedures".

Russia said it began its aerial campaign against IS militants and other jihadist groups after a request to help militarily from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Map of Syria showing locations of Russian and US-led coalition air strikes
Prior to the talks, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said Russia’s actions in Syria were "wrongheaded and strategically short-sighted", though he expected a deal soon.

The US is leading a coalition that has been bombing IS targets in Syria since September last year.
The talks come after US military spokesman Col Steve Warren told reporters that two US and two Russian aircraft "entered the same battle space" over Syria on Saturday.
He said the aircraft were in visual contact with each other.

Col Warren also said that Russian planes had repeatedly broken air patrols, coming close to US American unmanned aerial vehicles or drone aircraft.
Russia has not publicly commented on this claim.

October 1, 2015

Russia Bombs Anti Assad Pro US Fighters- Is the US Leaving the Mid-east to Putin?


                                                                   
A man carries a young girl who was injured in a reported barrel-bomb attack by government forces Tuesday in Aleppo, Syria.
Baraa Al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images 
Yesterday was the beginning of an end it seems. To the schooled eye it would look like the United States is begun some secret policy of leaving the Middle East. As far as the reason to be there from the time the United States decided this was a national security issue and it had to be there and make sure Russia wasn’t; These reasons no longer seems to be there. 

Security reasons to be n top of most issues in the area are not the same anymore. Israel a partner and ally can defend itself. There is Egypt a country who even during the turmoil of a contained civil war and quickly change of regimes, has emerged from this stronger in the sense that they now have a constitution in which you will have elections for President [like Russia] but unlike [Russia ] there are term limits and that is more important is turned out in some countries because elections can be manipulated [like in Russia]. There is Jordan and they need the U.S. help and there are no plans to abandon Jordan and ally of the U.S.

 As far as the Palestinians go they have refused to settled for anything unless they got everything and it has cost United States dearly having the Palestinians with nothing and Israel with everything. Abandoning this loosing game might seem to Washington as not loosing anymore prestige and American lives to Palestinian induced terrorism. U.S. have been involved in the conflict because it was the right thing to do(?) and it went to the U.S. policy of active involvement in this region.

As far as Syria is concerned they have always been on the side of the Russians and it was the Russians who abandoned them because of their own weakness and lack of resources. Putin is now decided to have the common worker in Russia who pays to the government pay for a more active involvement this time around to replace the United States in being the key there even at the risk of a military confrontation that Putin a Chess player and super bluffer is willing to chance. 
CNN: The White House downplayed Russia's decision to launch the strikes without coordinating with the United States, and the State Department said ahead of the strikes that Russian involvement in Syria could be an opportunity. But the Pentagon slammed the move and suggested Moscow’s backing for close ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- who appears to be losing his grip on power - 
Putin today bombed the people aligned with the U.S. and against Bashar al-Assad, President-king of Syria. During the Nixon administration Russians sent military ships to Syria breaking their word that they would not get militarily involved.  Nixon put the Military on Alert and ordered the US Fleet there.The Russian ships issue was settled to Nixon’s satisfaction and he brought the con to normal. What would happen if Obama would have followed that doctrine when Putin intervened with its planes today? No nobody knows. 


                                                                   



 “They are the most violent strikes,” says a man filming the grim aftermath of what he asserts was a Russian air attack on the town of Talbiseh, in the Homs Province of Syria. “This is the Russian criminal regime.” The voice then trials off into laments and prayers: “Oh God, oh God, oh God. God is all we need.”

He concludes: “This is what the criminal Russian planes did.”

When Russia declared it would start hitting the Islamic State in Syria, opponents of President Bashar al-Assad were immediately concerned that it would target them as well — insurgents who rebelled long before the Islamic State, also called ISIS or ISIL, existed in its current form.

But even they were taken aback on Wednesday when Russia’s very first airstrikes in Syria appeared to target areas where the Islamic State has no known presence, including some that have symbolic resonance as strongholds of the early, locally based opposition that sprang up among army defectors.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Monday.Russia Launches Airstrikes in Syria, Adding a New WrinkleSEPT. 30, 2015
The aftermath of a barrel bomb attack in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, Syria, earlier this month.Who Is Fighting Whom in SyriaSEPT. 30, 2015
Open Source: Parsing YouTube Evidence of Russian Strikes in SyriaSEPT. 30, 2015
Migrants arriving on a northern shore of Lesbos, Greece, this week after crossing by rubber raft from Turkey.Refugee Crisis in Europe Prompts Western Engagement in SyriaSEPT. 30, 2015
Clay Lawton, 26, from Rhode Island, left, and the 45-year-old Texan called Azad.Feature: Meet the American Vigilantes Who Are Fighting ISISSEPT. 30, 2015
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Monday. video Putin on Intervention in SyriaSEPT. 30, 2015
If Moscow had been determined to destabilize the situation in Syria, many of Mr. Assad’s opponents say, it would have been hard-pressed to think of a more electrifying and polarizing way.
Among the areas hit was the base of a group that had been supported and supplied by the United States and its allies, said its leader, Jamil Saleh. He said the group’s base had been hit severely in Hama Province, wounding eight of his men. Later on Wednesday, American officials confirmed that some groups supported by the United States had been hit.

“We are on the front lines with Bashar al-Assad’s army,” said Mr. Saleh, whose group has recently posted videos of its fighters using sophisticated American-made TOW missiles to destroy government tanks. “We are moderate Syrian rebels and have no affiliation with ISIS. ISIS is at least 100 kilometers away from where we are.”

The group posted a video that it said showed the attack, first with two Russian fighter jets wheeling overhead, then with a blast so close and powerful that it knocked the camera to the ground.

The strikes provided fodder for the many Syrian opponents of Mr. Assad who believe that all the world’s forces are arrayed against them, and that the United States, after promising aid that never came in sufficient amounts to matter, has abandoned them, effectively allying with Russia, Iran and Mr. Assad.

“Russia is an accomplice in Assad’s crimes today, with approval from both the U.S. and the international community to kill us,” said Khoodair Khusheif, an activist in northern Homs Province. “If these raids continue this way, Russia will kill a larger number of civilians that Bashar did in four years.”

He added, sounding sincerely perplexed: “I do not know how the main ally of Bashar al-Assad has been allowed officially to intervene and kill Syrian people. I really don’t understand how a great country like U.S.A. allows Russia to bomb in Syria.”

Russia’s intervention has already led regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar to increase military support to the rebels. Yet the principal impact, analysts and rebel commanders say, will be to further radicalize elements in the opposition, potentially driving more to join forces with the Islamic State or other radical groups. 

Much as American strikes on the Islamic State may have worked as a recruiting tool for the group, so too could Russia’s entry attract even more jihadists with a grudge against Russia from Afghanistan or the Caucasus.

“It appears to the people now that what the Islamic State has said is right, about the West being the enemy of Muslims,” said a Syrian journalist working in rebel areas under the nom de guerre Jalal Zein al-Din. “And that there is no solution but in self-armament and a strong belief in God, which will extend the duration of the Syrian crisis, making the division of Syria as a Plan B easier to achieve.”

Pro-government Syrians, on the other hand, were jubilant and relieved after what they had seen as an overly tepid endorsement of Mr. Assad by Mr. Putin in his United Nations speech on Monday.

  
State news media reflected that spirit, even publishing news about the attacks under an image of a Russian crest, with its traditional double-headed eagle.

Homs Province sprawls far to the eastern desert, including Palmyra, which the Islamic State controls, and gas fields where the group has advanced, threatening power supplies for much of Syria. But most of the province’s population is concentrated in the west, around Homs city, the provincial capital, and that is where the strikes hit.

Antigovernment activists and insurgents in Homs Province said the airstrikes hit three towns north of Homs city on Wednesday — Rastan and Zaafarani, as well as Talbiseh — that have long been held by rebels fighting Mr. Assad.
Talbiseh is used to bombing; the makeshift hospitals, for example, are all underground after medical facilities have been repeatedly bombed over the years by the government. Yet, Mahmoud Taha, an activist reached in Talbiseh, said the level of fear was new.

The town was paralyzed with terror, he said, as people hid in shelters and orchards. The local authorities called a curfew to keep people off the streets. Mr. Taha said that government helicopters swooped in on the heels of the Russian planes, dropping barrel bombs.

Activists in Talbiseh said that 15 people had been killed there, and that 39 people, including women and children, had been killed in the three towns. Videos posted from the town showed a row of bodies wrapped in bloodstained white shrouds, one of them child-size. One close-up showed the face of a young boy. Videos from the other towns also appeared to show wounded children.

The Syrian American Medical Society, which aids clinics in the area, said 33 people had been killed in the attacks, including three children and a rescue worker.

In nearby Rastan, Tamam, a resident who defected from Air Force intelligence early in the uprising against Mr. Assad, said people had defiantly reopened their shops after the attacks. “Who died, died, and who lived, lived,” he said.

Tamam, who would give only his first name, said Russian planes had carried out four raids on the town. 

The strikes, he said, hit less than a half-mile from his house. “The strikes were so accurate, and the sound was like an earthquake,” he said, adding that he had spotted two planes. “The missiles exploded with black smoke and a bad smell.”

There were early indications that Russia could face repercussions from its developing role in Syria. The Army of Islam, an insurgent group with Saudi financing that is strong around Damascus, announced days ago that it was declaring war on Russia — at least wherever it reared its head in Syria.

And one Homs resident, Ahmad Abu Mohammad, wrote in a Facebook message that Russia was “a partner of the Assad gangs,” adding ominously: “Russia is an enemy of the Syrian people and its interests must be targeted.”



Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad and Maher Samaan in Beirut, Lebanon; Karam Shoumali in Gaziantep, Turkey; and an employee of The New York Times in Damascus.

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