US Official: Russian Missiles Aimed at Syria Crash in Iran

VOA News

Four Russian cruise missiles launched from warships in the Caspian Sea crashed in Iran, falling short of their targets in Syria, a U.S official confirmed to VOA.

The official said there has been no information on damage.

Russia on Wednesday ramped up its air campaign in Syria with heavy aerial bombardments and, for the first time, cruise missile strikes launched from the Caspian Sea, in support of a major ground operation by the Syrian military.

Russian officials had said 26 cruise missiles were launched at 11 Islamic State targets, which were destroyed without causing any civilian casualties.

NATO rapid response force

After noting the «troubling escalation» of Russia’s military activities in Syria, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance agreed Thursday to double the size of its rapid response force, to 40,000 troops.

Stoltenberg’s comments came in Brussels where Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war was high on the agenda in talks among NATO defense ministers.

The issue took on more importance after reports this week that Russian jets involved in the Syrian air raids violated the airspace of Turkey, a member of the United States-backed military alliance.

Stoltenberg told reporters after the defense ministers’ meeting that he urged Russia to “play a productive role” in Syria, adding that its recent actions, such as breaching Turkish airspace, “are not helpful.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, a participant in Thursday’s meeting, said Russia will soon begin to suffer casualties after dramatically expanding its military support for longtime ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

«This will have consequences for Russia itself, which is rightly fearful of attacks. … In coming days, the Russians will begin to suffer from casualties,» Carter said at the meeting in Brussels.

Military risks

Worse still, Moscow is risking clashes with U.S. and other planes also targeting Islamic State jihadists in Syria.

Carter described a trend of unpredictable military action that has put the U.S. and its allies on edge, including Russia firing cruise missiles at Syrian targets this week without giving any advance warning.

«We’ve seen increasingly unprofessional behavior from Russian forces. They violated Turkish airspace. … They have shot cruise missiles from a ship in the Caspian Sea without warning; they have come within just a few miles (kilometers) of one of our unmanned aerial vehicles,» Carter said after NATO defense talks in Brussels.

For 40 years, NATO’s central task was deterring Russia in the east during the Cold War. Now, after a decade of involvement in Afghanistan, the alliance faces a threat from Islamic State extremists in the south.

«NATO is ready and able to defend all allies, including Turkey, against any threats,» Stoltenberg said. «NATO has already responded by increasing our capacity, our ability, to deploy forces including to the south, including in Turkey.»

‘End of Cold War’

He said the increase in the rapid response force «is the biggest reinforcement to our collective defense since the end of the Cold War. And by doing that, we provide the deterrence, which is so essential to make sure that all NATO countries are safe and that they can rely on NATO.»

Carl Hvenmark Nilsson, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., told VOA’s Persian news service that the NATO alliance sees Russia’s growing involvement in Syria as “deeply problematic.”

“It is clear from Ankara that they see this as a hostile act and that they are very worried” that Russia’s jets infringed on Turkish airspace, Nilsson said.

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