David Cameron has called the Russian bombing of Syria a “retrograde step” after reports Moscow's forces targeted positions held by the Free Syrian Army. During a visit to Jamaica on Wednesday, the British prime minister said the UK intelligence would "carefully" examine the bombing missions undertaken by Russia's forces.
“I have a clear view that if this is a part of international action against Isil, that appalling terrorist death cult outfit, then that is all to the good,” he said. "If, on the other hand, this is action against the Free Syrian Army in support of Assad the dictator, then obviously that is a retrograde step but let us see exactly what has happened."
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday evening, US defence chief Ashton Carter said Russian strikes were in areas "where there were probably not Isil forces," accusing Putin's forces of "pouring gasoline on the fire" of the four-year civil war.
“Russia states an intent to fight Isil on the one hand, and to support the Bashar al-Assad regime on the other," he added. "Fighting Isil without pursuing a parallel political transition only risks escalating the civil war in Syria -- and with it, the very extremism and instability that Moscow claims to be concerned about and aspire to fighting.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the Russian parliament agreed to military intervention in the Middle East, responding to a plea for help from President Bashar al-Assad. The Russian military said the bombing targeted members of the Islamic State, however US officials said Russian planes attacked the Homs area held by the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday no ground troops will be deployed in Syria, and pushing for the government in Damascus to reach an agreement with opposition forces. Speaking from Moscow, he said: "I know that President Assad understands that and is ready for such a process. We hope that he will be active and flexible and ready to compromise in the name of his country and his people."
Speaking at the United Nations, US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US had "grave concerns" over reports that Russia's military hit targets free of Islamic State fighters. He added the terrorist group "cannot be defeated as long as Bashar al-Assad remains president of Syria."
In the UK, Tory MP Colonel Bob Stewart, who sits on the UK’s defence select committee, backed the Russian attack, suggesting Assad was a more welcome ally than the Islamic State. “In order to defeat the great Satan you might have to put up with a lesser devil as well," he noted. "I am pleased that the Russians have said they are going to intervene and I hope very much that it helps contribute to the extinguishing of this appalling threat to mankind."
James Gray, the Conservative MP for North Wiltshire, who also sits on the defence select committee member, echoed those sentiments. "My enemy's enemy is my friend, to some degree," he said. "You can't fight both Assad and IS at the same time."