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US Coalition Clears Russian Warplanes' Path Through Iraq


FILE - A Russian long-range bomber Tu-22M3 strikes at an undisclosed location in Syria, in this frame grab from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service.

The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria cleared the way for Russian bombers to pass through Iraq on their way to Syria via an airbase in Iran.

Col. Chris Garver, the coalition spokesman, told reporters via teleconference from Baghdad that the Russians notified the coalition about their planned movement through Iraqi airspace as per a memorandum of understanding for flight safety made between Russia and the United States months ago.

"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 [of Syria] again," Garver said.

Russia announced earlier Tuesday that a group of its warplanes took off from an Iranian airbase for the first time to carry out airstrikes against militants in Syria.

Use of Iranian air base

Russia's defense ministry said Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 frontline bombers were launched from the Hamedan air base, located around 280 kilometers southwest of the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Russian planes will fly out of Hamedan air base, in Iran
Russian planes will fly out of Hamedan air base, in Iran

It said the strikes hit "five large warehouses with weapons, ammunition and fuel" and the training camps of "Islamic State and the Jabhat al-Nusra terror group" in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Idlib.

Garver confirmed that there are several Islamic State targets in Deir ez-Zor, but he said the coalition did not see concentrations of Islamic State fighters in Aleppo and Idlib. An official with Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, said he could not confirm to VOA where Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the group formally known as Jabhat al-Nusra, was operating in Syria.

Russian forces have been conducting airstrikes supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government since late September of last year.

Not a precedent

Tuesday is not the first time Russia has launched airstrikes from outside of Syria. Last October and November, Russia launched long-range rockets into Syria from the Caspian Sea. During Russia’s first long-range missile strikes on October 7, the U.S. said four of the missiles went awry and crashed in Iran, although Moscow denied the claim.

Russia has insisted its air campaign is focused on terrorists and not the rebels who oppose Assad, but has faced criticism from Western governments and rights groups who say that has not been the case.

Back in Iran Tuesday, state media quoted the head of the country's National Security Council Ali Shamkhani as saying Iran and Russia have strategic cooperation in fighting terrorism in Syria and are sharing their facilities in that mission.

The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 as peaceful protests against Assad and quickly spiraled into a civil war that the United Nations estimates has killed more than 400,000 people. Nearly 5 million people have fled the country and another 6.6 million are internally displaced, according to U.N. data.