U.S., Rus­sia trade barbs over Aleppo, Mo­sul

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Tracy Wilkin­son

WASH­ING­TON — Rus­sia says its bomb­ing of schools, hos­pi­tals and civil­ians in the Syr­ian city of Aleppo is no dif­fer­ent than the U.S.-backed of­fen­sive on the Iraqi city of Mo­sul, a charge U.S. of­fi­cials fiercely deny.

The tit-for-tat is the lat­est sign of the down­ward spi­ral of U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tions.

U.S. of­fi­cials bris­tle at the com­par­i­son be­tween the Rus­sian-backed siege of Aleppo and the U.S. at­tempt to free Mo­sul from Is­lamic State.

Moscow is back­ing Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s at­tempts to crush what both call ter­ror­ist groups in Aleppo, the largest city still partly un­der rebel con­trol in Syria’s civil war

Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies are back­ing an Iraqi-led ground of­fen­sive aimed at dis­lodg­ing Is­lamic State from Mo­sul, the largest city un­der that group’s con­trol.

An es­ti­mated 275,000 civil­ians are be­lieved to be trapped in eastern Aleppo. An es­ti­mated one mil­lion Iraqis may be stuck in Mo­sul. Mil­i­tants have blocked their es­cape in both cities.

But un­like in Aleppo, where Syr­ian and Rus­sian at­tacks have caused heavy civil­ian ca­su­al­ties over the last year, the Pen­tagon and the United Na­tions said they have no con­firmed civil­ian ca­su­al­ties from coali­tion at­tacks in the Mo­sul of­fen­sive that be­gan two weeks ago.

“We keep hear­ing ‘Aleppo, Aleppo, Aleppo,’ ” Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin groused last week at the Val­dai Dis­cus­sion Group con­fer­ence, a meet­ing of lead­ers and in­tel­lec­tu­als held an­nu­ally in Rus­sia.

“Do we leave the nest of ter­ror­ists in place there, or do we squeeze them out? … If it is bet­ter to not go in at all, then the of­fen­sive against Mo­sul shouldn’t go ahead at all ei­ther.”

U.S. of­fi­cials say Rus­sia re­fuses to dis­tin­guish among the in­sur­gents in Aleppo. They say some — such as the Syr­ian branch of al-Qaida — are le­git­i­mate tar­gets.

But fight­ing along with them, the U.S. con­tends, are more mod­er­ate rebels who op­pose As­sad’s con­tin­ued rule and should be sup­ported, not wiped out.

“It’s rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent,” State Depart­ment spokesman John Kirby said when asked about the two of­fen­sives. “Any com­par­i­son is ab­so­lutely in­sult­ing.”

While Mo­sul has been “un­der the jack­boot” of Is­lamic State for about two years, Kirby said the alQaida-linked fight­ers in Aleppo are far out­num­bered by what he called “mod­er­ate op­po­si­tion groups” that he said were “work­ing on be­half of the Syr­ian peo­ple, the Syr­ian cit­i­zens of Aleppo, to try to free them from as­sault ... by their own govern­ment.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gues that, un­like Rus­sia, the U.S. mil­i­tary has taken ex­ten­sive pre­cau­tions to avoid tar­get­ing civil­ians and has worked closely with U.N. agen­cies to aid those who man­age to es­cape the fight­ing.

Rus­sia says it avoids at­tack­ing civil­ians in Aleppo, and has sus­pended air at­tacks on the city for the past two weeks.

But bar­rel bombs, heavy ar­tillery and other in­dis­crim­i­nate weapons have killed thou­sands, in­clud­ing chil­dren, the U.S. govern­ment main­tains.

KARAM AL-MASRI/GETTY-AFP

Smoke bil­lows from a front­line dis­trict in the north­ern city of Aleppo, Syria, last week.

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