Russia, Assad Forces Launch First Joint Military Operation in Syria

Russian warships carry out missile strikes; ground offensive launched with aid of Russian airstrikes; 5 Lebanese soldiers wounded in apparent spillover in fighting.

AP

On Wednesday the Syrian army and allied militia carried out ground attacks on insurgent positions in Syria backed by Russian air strikes.
 
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says Russia is using warships in the Caspian Sea to target the Islamic State in Syria.

Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin in televised remarks that Russia on Wednesday morning carried out 26 missile strikes from four warships of its Caspian Sea flotilla. Shoigu insisted the operation destroyed all the targets and did not launch any strikes upon civilian areas.

Putin said it was too early to talk about the results of Russia's operations in Syria and ordered Shoigu to continue cooperation with the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq on Syria.

Russia last week began carrying out airstrikes in Syria in what it said was a pre-emptive operation against terrorism in the Middle East.

"The president of France, Mr. Hollande, voiced an interesting idea, according to which it would be possible, in his opinion, to try to unite the efforts of the government forces of President Assad and the so-called Free Syrian Army," Putin said.

However, a source close to French President Francios Hollande said on Wednesday that associating moderate rebels from the Free Syrian Army and government forces to fight Islamic State was not a French idea.

"The president spoke of the necessary presence of the Syrian opposition around the negotiating table," said the source.

France has repeatedly said that once a political transition has occurred and Assad has gone, government troops and moderate rebels would need to join forces to defeat Islamic State.

Meanwhile, a Syrian official told the Associated Press that a ground offensive has been launched in central regions of the country amid the intense shelling and Russian airstrikes. Activists and rebels confirmed this statement.

AP

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the operations are concentrated in the neighboring provinces of Hama and Idlib.

In an apparent spillover from the fighting in Syria, Lebanon's state-run National News Agency reported Wednesday that militants fired a shell at a Lebanese army position near the two countries' shared border, wounding five Lebanese soldiers.

According to the NNA, the attack occurred near the northeastern Lebanese border town of Ras Baalbek. Lebanese troops retaliated for Wednesday's attack by shelling militant positions.

Clashes and shelling in areas along the Syrian-Lebanese border are not uncommon.

The Russian airstrikes appear to have emboldened Syrian troops to launch a ground offensive after suffering a string of setbacks in northwestern Syria over the past few months.