A Russian general asked the U.S. to remove its planes from Syrian airspace Wednesday, just hours before Russian airstrikes began. In Moscow, lawmakers had earlier approved Vladimir Putin’s request to use armed forces abroad.
American officials said they would not alter their activities in the region.
The Russian three-star general, who was part of the newly formed intelligence cell, arrived in Baghdad at 9 a.m. local time and informed U.S. officials that Russian strikes would be starting imminently -- and that the U.S. should refrain from conducting strikes and move any personnel out.
The only notice the U.S. received about his visit was a phone call one hour earlier.
So far, defense officials said they only believe Homs had been hit, but could not say what kind of strikes, the targets or the platform used. They also could not confirm reports of large civilian casualties.
There are limited tactical assets around Homs, making is harder for U.S. officials to sort out the details, a defense official explained.
"We will know but it is going to take some time," he said.
The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, opposition-linked on-the-ground monitors of the conflict, estimate that 36 people were killed in Homs alone, one of three ISIS-free provinces Russia bombed today. The airstrikes targeted five northern suburbs of Homs: Talbiseh, Al Ghantoo, Al Rastan, Al Zafrana and Al Mukarramiyah.
As American officials scrambled to onfirm the impact of the strikes, they conceded the operation was a rebuke of talks between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin about deconfliction.
'This bypasses legitimate discussion," a senior defense official told The Daily Beast.
Indeed, just yesterday, the Pentagon said it had ordered staff and senior officials to begin such talks. U.S. officials believe there are under 1,000 Russians joined ISIS.