Russian jets struck CIA-backed rebels in Syria, says John McCain; Putin denies civilian fatalities

A video grab made on Sept 30, 2015, purportedly shows an airstrike in Syria by Russian warplanes.
A video grab made on Sept 30, 2015, purportedly shows an airstrike in Syria by Russian warplanes.PHOTO: AFP / RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Russian warplanes conducted air strikes on groups "funded and trained by our CIA", United States Senator John McCain said on Thursday (Oct 1), as Russia's President denied that the strikes had killed civilians.

Russia claimed on Thursday that its warplanes had bombed four Islamic State in Iraq and Syria targets in Syria overnight, including a command centre and weapons depot. Russian news agencies quoted defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying Moscow had sent some 50 planes and helicopters to Syria, as well as marines.

But Sen McCain's claim that Russia had attacked US Central Intelligence Agency-backed group, if true, could mark an escalation in tensions between Moscow and Washington.

"Their initial strikes were against the individuals and the groups that have been funded and trained by our CIA," Sen McCain told CNN, adding that the move showed Moscow's real priority: "to prop up" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday dismissed claims that Russian air strikes had killed civilians in Syria as "information warfare", but said Moscow would look into those reports.

"When it comes to media reports regarding the suffering of the civilian population, we are ready for this information warfare," he said. "Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that we should not heed information like this."

And Iran on Thursday threw its support behind Russia's air strikes in defence of their common ally, Mr Assad, describing it as a step to solving "the crisis" in the region.

Iran's Foreign Ministry said it supported the move that was "based on an official request from the Syrian government to the Russian Federation".

"Iran sees the Russian military operation against armed terrorist groups in Syria as a step in the fight against terrorism that is in line with resolving the ongoing crisis in the region," Foreign Ministry spokesman Marzieh Afkham said.

Iran, the Syrian government's key regional ally, has provided Mr Assad with financial and military support, including army advisers on the ground.

"A real and thorough fight against terrorism, which is a common threat to regional and global peace and stability, is necessary," Ms Afkham said in a statement.

The fight requires "common international action based on cooperation with the Iraqi and Syrian governments that bear the main burden of fighting terrorism," she added.

After weeks of military buildup by Russia in Syrian government-controlled territory, Russian senators on Wednesday voted behind closed doors to unanimously approve intervention in Syria.