U.S., Russia trade barbs over Aleppo, Mosul
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.
Smoke billows from a frontline district in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria, last week.