The Russian military has pressed on with its air campaign in Syria, bombing more than rebel 60 targets as US officials admitted it could do nothing to protect its proxies on the ground.
Syria’s army, emboldened by Russian air power, said it had advanced on villages in northern Hama and Idlib provinces, strongholds of rebel groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Russia said its latest wave of raids targeted fighters associated with Isis in Idlib and Aleppo provinces, although the group has little presence in those areas.
Russia’s defence ministry had claimed on Friday to have killed 100 fighters, including two Isis field commanders, in a strike on an ammunition depot near Aleppo. Meanwhile, US officials said that CIA-backed rebels in the area were under Russian bombardment with little prospect of rescue by their American sponsors.
The Russians “know their targets, and they have a sophisticated capacity to understand the battlefield situation”, said Republican congressman Mike Pompeo, who is on the House of Representatives intelligence committee. They are “bombing in locations that are not connected” to Isis, he said.
Angus King, an independent who is on the Senate’s intelligence and armed services committee, said that US options “are much narrower than they were two weeks ago” before the Russians entered the war. Nevertheless, the US military said on Saturday that its planes had bombed 25 Isis targets in Syria and Iraq overnight, but did not elaborate.
According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, government forces captured the villages of Atshan and Um Haret in Hama province.
Syrian troops have faced stiff resistance from the rebels.
Heavy fighting was also taking place in the al-Ghab plain in Hama province – a natural barrier between areas controlled by Sunni Muslims and members of the Alawite sect to which Mr Assad and many of his loyalists belong.
The observatory also stated that Isis had capitalised on the Russian bombing of Aleppo, sweeping into areas of the province after the previous, more “moderate” forces had fled or were weakened by the Russian strikes.