Moscow says 600 'militants' flee Syria, vows to ramp up bombing
Russian air strikes Saturday targeting the Islamic State group in Syria have sown "panic", forcing some 600 "militants" to abandon their positions and head to Europe, Moscow claimed.
Summing up the results of Russia's first three days of strikes, a senior official with the General Staff said Russian jets had made more than 60 sorties over 50 IS targets and added that Russia would ramp up its aerial campaign.
"Our intelligence shows that militants are leaving areas under their control. Panic and desertion have started in their ranks," Colonel General Andrei Kartapolov, a senior Russian General Staff official, said in a statement.
"Some 600 mercenaries have abandoned their positions and are trying to find their way into Europe," Kartapolov said.
"Over the past three days we have managed to undermine material and technical resources of the terrorists and significantly reduce their combat potential," he added. "We will not only continue the strikes by our air force but also will increase their intensity."
He said Russia had managed to destroy IS command posts, warehouses storing ammunition and explosives, communication hubs, training camps as well as "mini-factories that made weapons for suicide bombers".
The United States and its allies have slammed Moscow's intervention, accusing the Kremlin of seeking to buttress Syria's embattled leader Bashar al-Assad and targeting moderate rebels.
Kartapolov said Russian officials had contacted their foreign counterparts and recommended that they pull their personnel from the region.
Russia also recommended that Washington pull out "those valuable employees who were trained at the expense of American taxpayers," Kartapolov said with heavy irony.
US Senator John McCain had earlier claimed that Russian jets killed rebel soldiers trained and funded by the CIA.
"By the way, during these contacts Americans informed us that no one but terrorists are present in this region," the Russian official added.
He also said that a task force Russia is setting up with Iraq, Iran and Syria had begun its work in Baghdad but expressed regret that the West had not moved to share intelligence.
"We have to admit openly that as of today we are receiving such data only from our colleagues at the centre," Kartapolov said.
"We are still open for dialogue with all interested parties."
Washington has accused Russia of making little distinction between IS militants and other factions.
© 2015 AFP