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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
September 30, 2015

Publication: Putin in Syria
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The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Is ISIS In Homs and Hama? We Ask The Institute for the Study of War

The Institute for the Study of War has been a highly reliable source as they meticulously study the state of battlefields in places like Syria. We asked them some questions about today's airstrikes, and received a reply from ISW's Genevieve Casagrande:

The Interpreter: Which rebel groups control the areas which were hit today in Homs?

ISW: The groups that control the Talbisa-Rastan rebel pocket north of Homs are: al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham (HASI), and other FSA-affiliated rebel brigades. Unfortunately, we don’t have fidelity on what groups exactly were impacted by the airstrikes today.

Interpreter: Does ISIS have a presence in Homs? Your latest map says no, but some people are pushing back on that because a Daily Mail article published in August showed ISIS reportedly throwing a gay man off a roof in Homs.

ISW:  There is ISIS in Homs Province, not in Homs City which is regime-held (with the exception of one neighborhood). The ISIS presence in Homs is primarily in the eastern countryside. For instance, Palmyra (Tadmur) is in Homs Province.

The Daily Mail article is likely referring to an event that happened in one of the ISIS-held villages in the eastern countryside of the province. There are, however, ISIS ‘sympathetic’ elements (i.e. similar in ideology but not officially ISIS) in rebel-held in the areas of Homs and Hama provinces that were hit today with airstrikes. These groups are minimal and are usually rooted out by other rebel brigades in the area. 

Interpreter:  Any idea which rebel unit was hit today in Al Lataminah, Hama province? The "FSA" commander told Reuters that his unit was hit, and he had recently received anti-tank missiles from a "foreign power." Any idea what, specifically, they are referencing?

ISW: Tajama’a al-Izza was hit in Al Lataminah. They are an FSA-affiliated TOW anti-tank missile recipient that is active in the provinces of Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo. The TOW missile recipients active in northern Syria are believed to receive these anti-tank missiles from the Turkish Military Operations Command (MOC).

Interpreter:  It looks like a member of Tahrir Homs was killed today. Do you know anything about this man or the unit? Do you know the group's ideological leanings?

ISW: Yes, the airstrikes killed Lyad al-Deek of Tahrir Homs today. Harakat Tahrir Homs is technically a Free Syrian Army affiliate, however in 2015 the once “moderate” Free Syrian Army is largely nominal and is not a good indicator of a rebel group’s ideological leanings. Tahrir Homs, like a lot of the battle hardened opposition remaining in Homs, is an Islamist brigade that is a military ally of Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. The relationship between Nusra and Tahrir Homs with regards to governance was thought of as “uneasy” when Nusra first started to assert itself (and it’s strict version of Shari’a) in Homs, however they have likely grown closer as time has gone on and probably are currently participating in joint rebel governance structures together.

Read more on today's bombings on ISW's blog:

-- James Miller
The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
UPDATED: Video Posted By Russian Deputy Prime Minister Shows Military Training Exercise

UPDATE: Original post is below, but as is noted at the end, this video was not taken in Syria.

Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin has posted this video to his Facebook page which appears to show a joint attack of helicopters and Russian jets in Syria today.

His message: "Let's wish our guys successes and victory!"

Note that this video does not appear to have been released first on Youtube, nor does the cameraman speak. Does that mean this video was filmed by a Russian soldier?

Also, it's unclear whether the helicopters in this video are Syrian regime or Russian, but one thing is interesting -- we have not yet seen reports of helicopters being used in Hama province. We have, however, seen reports of helicopters being used in Homs -- including in Talbiseh, one of the targets of Russian airstrikes.  If this is Homs, not Hama, that makes the video even more interesting, since the Russian Foreign Ministry is denying that Russia attacked Homs at all.

UPDATE: 


Rogozin's message seemed to suggest that this was taken today in Syria, but it is in fact old video from a training exercise.

-- James Miller, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Area Hit By Russian Airstrikes In Homs Have Been Under Siege By Assad Forces For More Than a Year
Alexander Hiniker, a Syria watcher with the United Nations, shares this analysis from the Syrian Institute:

Reports from Syrian sources suggest that the targeted strikes hit four towns in northern Homs governorate: Talbiseh, Zafaraneh, Al-Rastan, and Al-Makaramah. All of these towns are within an area of northern Homs that has been besieged by pro-regime forces for more than a year. There were a reported 36 casualties so far, including a mixture of civilians (women, children, and elderly), and rebels, but this number is expected to rise due to the high number of injured victims yet to be treated.

Again, there are no reports that any ISIS fighters are among the dead, and civilians and rebels interviewed by multiple news agencies deny the presence of ISIS in this area of Homs.

But now we see Russia's ulterior motive. Having covered the rise of the Syrian uprising and the first half of this war in great detail, I can attest to the fact that the areas of northern Homs have always defied Assad. These towns hosted some of the largest protests early in the peaceful uprising, and effectively militarily resisted Assad until the intervention of Hezbollah militants in 2013. Still, despite the fact that the Syrian regime controls the majority of Homs city to the south, these areas remain in rebel hands.

Once again, to understand Russia's motivations in Syria it is likely best to look at the battlefield realities than anywhere else.

-- James Miller


The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
The Aviationist Says Official Russian Video Shows Russian Aircraft Missed Their Target In Syria

We've been writing that ISIS does not appear to have been the intended target for today's airstrikes, as Russia claims. But The Aviationist reports that according to official video released by the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Russian aircraft actually even missed their intended target:

Although we are unable to ID the weapons used against these targets it looks like that either the targeting pod was aiming somewhere else or the attack missed its target: the first part of the footage (most probably filmed from a targeting pod or maybe a drone) shows shrapnels from a bomb possibly exploded south of the target; the second part shows the same target and other shrapnels, but you can also clearly see the blast of a bomb at the bottom of the scene; the third one shows bombs (2 or 3) seemigly missing their target by several meters.

This analysis appears to have been seconded by Estonia's Mission to NATO which tweeted out the article:

So far it appears that Russia did not attempt to conduct highly-accurate strikes against targets in Homs where at least 36 people, perhaps all of which were civilians, have been killed. But in Hama province, where a rebel unit was targeted, it appears Russia just missed its mark. Neither development adds credibility to Kremlin statements which claim that Russia will be conducted highly-accurate strikes against the Islamic State.

-- James Miller

The Interpreter
@Interpreter_Mag
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Interpreter_Mag
Independent Russian News Site Meduza Interviews Homs Resident Who Says Russian Planes Struck Civilian Areas


While the Russian state media has been giving the official perspective on Russia's air strikes in Syria today, some opposition and independent news sites are looking beyond the official rhetoric.

Most of the critical social media commentary has revolved around the point that Russia seems to have "missed" its target and hit not ISIS, but the opposition forces fighting Assad.

There's also been concern about the rubber-stamp decision from the parliament made in secret, and civilians killed in strikes that do not appear to have been on ISIS-controlled territory:

Translation: The review by the Federation Council of the issue of sending our troops abroad in closed sessions looks unconstitutional. Or are only their grandsons going?


Translation: @navalny Why is the country silent? People, in your name, decisions are being made about the use of Russian forces in a war in other countries - war.

Translation: "The strike was made on residential quarters"; resident of suburb of Homs tells Meduza about the air strikes.

Meduza, an independent Russian-language news site made up of exiles from Russia based in Riga has published an interview with a resident of Homs who says Russian air strikes hit civilians areas.

The Interpreter has translated the interview:


While the Russian Defense Ministry claims it has made "surgical strikes" only on areas that are ISIS strongholds, multiple sources including The New York Times and The Independent as well as The Interpreter have been reporting throughout the day that the areas struck are those of opposition to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, not ISIS.


Reports indicate that as many as 36 civilians have been killed in Homs.

A resident of Homs named Talbisi Firas al-Said spoke to Daniil Turovsky, Meduza's special correspondent, on what he saw:


Turovsky: Where are you now?

Said
: I'm in the village of Talbiseh, that is a suburb of Homs. I live here.

Turovsky: What did you see today?

Said
: This morning two plans flew over our city. They released eight rockets. These strikes were made on civilian quarters of the city. As a result of the strikes, 16 civilians were killed. Three of them were children, two were women.

I cannot be completely sure that the strikes on us were made by Russian planes but I can say the following. I and others believe that these were Russian planes, because it was all different than it is usually. The aftermath and the destruction after the rockets is horrible. Those who managed to see these planes say they had never seen those kinds before. These are new planes, not the usual Syrian planes.

Turovsky: What can you say about the consequences of the strikes? Were homes destroyed? You say children were killed -- were there strikes on a school?

Said: Some buildings were totally destroyed. No, there were no strikes against schools, the air strikes were against residential buildings.

Turovsky: Did you go to the hospital? What types of wounds did those killed and injured have?

Said: Yes, I went to the hospital. but I must say that this is not a building at all, just a hospital out in the middle of the field. Of course, there are not enough doctors here when such strikes are made, and when 16 people were killed and there are numerous people wounded. I cannot say the precise number of those injured, but there were a lot. The majority of them were seriously wounded. I saw several people who had lost their limbs.

Turovsky: What do you think about the fact that Russia began fighting against the Islamic State in Syria?

Said: For now I only see that the first strike was made on residential quarters of the city in which there is no ISIS. The city of Talbiseh, just like Homs is not controlled by them. Here there are civilian residents and the FSA (Free Syrian Army, an armed opposition group fighting government forces--Meduza). It seems this is all being done in order to support Bashar al-Assad. But we are simple residents, we are not fighters.

Turovsky
: So you can say that both Homs and Talbiseh are controlled by the opposition?

Said:
Yes, that's so. But not all the territories are controlled by the FSA. The center of the city of Homs is controlled by government forces.

Turovsky:
Some of the neighboring villages are controlled by the Al Nursa Front (a division of Al Qaeda in Syria--Meduza). Could you have mixed them up?

Said: I can only say that Talbiseh is not controlled by any terrorists.

PS: After this interview was published, the Russian Foreign Ministry said information about civilian casualties due to the Russia air strikes was "a [disinformation] plant."

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

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