Russian Bombers Are Flying Anti-ISIS Missions From Iranian Air Base

PHOTO: A Russian long range bomber Tu-22M3 flies during an air strike over Aleppo region of Syria, Aug. 16, 2016.PlayRussian Defence Ministry Press Service photo via AP Photo
WATCH Russian Warplanes Take Off From Iranian Base to Target ISIS in Syria

Russian warplanes are now taking off from an Iranian air base to target ISIS in Syria.

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In a statement, the Russian Defense Ministry said that Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 fighter bombers had taken off from Khamandan air base in Iran to target ISIS and the terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir-ez Zor and Idlib.

Fighter jets from Syria’s Hmeimeem base supported the bombers, according to the statement.

A video released by the Russian Defense Ministry today includes a cockpit view of a Tu-22M3 bomber flying over Syria before dropping its munitions.

If confirmed, this will be the first time the Russians have launched their warplanes from inside Iran since Moscow began striking targets in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last September.

Reuters reported it was even "thought to be the first time that Iran has allowed a foreign power to use its territory for military operations since the 1979 Islamic revolution."

Army Col. Christopher Garver, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force–Operation Inherent Resolve, said today that the Russian planes did not affect coalition operations in Iraq or Syria.

“The Russians did notify the coalition as per the Memorandum of Understanding for safety of flight,” he said. “They activated that system, as we have in the past. They informed us they were coming through and we ensured safety of flight as those bombers passed through the area and toward their target and then when they passed out again.”

Garver would not confirm if ISIS targets were in Aleppo or Idlib, two of the locations the Russians identified striking from the Iranian base. He only said that the U.S.-led coalition had not struck targets in those areas in a “very long time.”

“We don’t see concentrations of ISIS in those areas,” he added.

Garver did acknowledge that the coalition has struck targets in Deir-ez Zor.

Russia’s decision signals their increased desire for influence in the region, as well as a strengthening of its relationship with Iran.

Just last week in Azerbaijan, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani to discuss regional security and cooperation. Tehran Times said Rouhani had welcomed an "expansion of ties” with Moscow following the meeting.

On Monday, Interfax news service reported that Russia asked Iran and Iraq last week if Russian cruise missiles could pass through their airspace.

Today's development is another chapter in the United States' complicated relationship with Russia over how to end the five-year Syrian civil war. Syrian and Russian airstrikes on besieged Aleppo killed over 45 people last weekend alone, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

Prior to the weekend's aerial assault, Russian instated a three-hour halt to its military activities in Aleppo last week to allow for humanitarian aid to reach the city. At the time, the United Nations criticized the length of that pause, saying it was far too short to allow supplies to reach the city.

The New York Times reports today that Russia is now considering working with the United States militarily to attack ISIS in Aleppo. As of yesterday, U.S. officials said there was no agreement with the Russians.

A deal would be a significant step between the two countries who have not yet found a way to end the violence.