Russia uses Iran as base to bomb Syrian militants for first time

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Russia Deploy Bomber Jets To Iran

MOSCOW, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Russia used Iran as a base from which to launch air strikes against Syrian militants for the first time on Tuesday, widening its air campaign in Syria and deepening its involvement in the Middle East.

In a move underscoring Moscow's increasingly close ties with Tehran, long-range Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers used Iran's Hamadan air base to strike a range of targets in Syria.

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Su-24s buzz over the USS Donald Cook

Courtesy: U.S. Navy

An U.S. Navy picture shows what appears to be a Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft flying over the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea in this picture taken April 12, 2016 and released April 13, 2016. Two Russian warplanes with no visible weaponry flew near the destroyer in what one U.S. official described as one of the most aggressive interactions in recent memory. (REUTERS/US Navy/Handout via Reuters)
An U.S. Navy picture shows what appears to be two Russian Sukhoi SU-24 attack aircraft flying over the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea in this picture taken April 12, 2016 and released April 13, 2016. Two Russian warplanes with no visible weaponry flew near the destroyer in what one U.S. official described as one of the most aggressive interactions in recent memory. (REUTERS/US Navy/Handout via Reuters)
Headquarters, United States European Command Media Operations Division Release: 16-09 April 13, 2016 U.S. Navy ship encounters aggressive Russian aircraft in Baltic Sea STUTTGART, GERMANY - A United States Navy Destroyer operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea experienced several close interactions by Russian aircraft on April 11 and 12. USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) encountered multiple, aggressive flight maneuvers by Russian aircraft that were performed within close proximity of the ship. On April 11, Donald Cook was conducting deck landing drills with an Allied military helicopter when two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous, close-range and low altitude passes at approximately 3 p.m. local. One of the passes, which occurred while the Allied helicopter was refueling on the deck of Donald Cook, was deemed unsafe by the ship's commanding officer. As a safety precaution, flight operations were suspended until the SU-24s departed the area. On April 12, while Donald Cook was operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea, a Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter conducted circles at low altitude around the ship, seven in total, at approximately 5 p.m. local. The helicopter passes were also deemed unsafe and unprofessional by the ship's commanding officer. About 40 minutes following the interaction with the Russian helicopter, two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous close-range and low altitude passes, 11 in total. The Russian aircraft flew in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian. USS Donald Cook's commanding officer deemed several of these maneuvers as unsafe and unprofessional. We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers. These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death. U.S. officials are using existing diplomatic channels to address the interactions, while the incidents are also being reviewed through U.S. Navy channels. -30-
Headquarters, United States European Command Media Operations Division Release: 16-09 April 13, 2016 U.S. Navy ship encounters aggressive Russian aircraft in Baltic Sea STUTTGART, GERMANY - A United States Navy Destroyer operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea experienced several close interactions by Russian aircraft on April 11 and 12. USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) encountered multiple, aggressive flight maneuvers by Russian aircraft that were performed within close proximity of the ship. On April 11, Donald Cook was conducting deck landing drills with an Allied military helicopter when two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous, close-range and low altitude passes at approximately 3 p.m. local. One of the passes, which occurred while the Allied helicopter was refueling on the deck of Donald Cook, was deemed unsafe by the ship's commanding officer. As a safety precaution, flight operations were suspended until the SU-24s departed the area. On April 12, while Donald Cook was operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea, a Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter conducted circles at low altitude around the ship, seven in total, at approximately 5 p.m. local. The helicopter passes were also deemed unsafe and unprofessional by the ship's commanding officer. About 40 minutes following the interaction with the Russian helicopter, two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous close-range and low altitude passes, 11 in total. The Russian aircraft flew in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian. USS Donald Cook's commanding officer deemed several of these maneuvers as unsafe and unprofessional. We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers. These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death. U.S. officials are using existing diplomatic channels to address the interactions, while the incidents are also being reviewed through U.S. Navy channels. -30-
Headquarters, United States European Command Media Operations Division Release: 16-09 April 13, 2016 U.S. Navy ship encounters aggressive Russian aircraft in Baltic Sea STUTTGART, GERMANY - A United States Navy Destroyer operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea experienced several close interactions by Russian aircraft on April 11 and 12. USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) encountered multiple, aggressive flight maneuvers by Russian aircraft that were performed within close proximity of the ship. On April 11, Donald Cook was conducting deck landing drills with an Allied military helicopter when two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous, close-range and low altitude passes at approximately 3 p.m. local. One of the passes, which occurred while the Allied helicopter was refueling on the deck of Donald Cook, was deemed unsafe by the ship's commanding officer. As a safety precaution, flight operations were suspended until the SU-24s departed the area. On April 12, while Donald Cook was operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea, a Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter conducted circles at low altitude around the ship, seven in total, at approximately 5 p.m. local. The helicopter passes were also deemed unsafe and unprofessional by the ship's commanding officer. About 40 minutes following the interaction with the Russian helicopter, two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous close-range and low altitude passes, 11 in total. The Russian aircraft flew in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian. USS Donald Cook's commanding officer deemed several of these maneuvers as unsafe and unprofessional. We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers. These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death. U.S. officials are using existing diplomatic channels to address the interactions, while the incidents are also being reviewed through U.S. Navy channels. -30-
Headquarters, United States European Command Media Operations Division Release: 16-09 April 13, 2016 U.S. Navy ship encounters aggressive Russian aircraft in Baltic Sea STUTTGART, GERMANY - A United States Navy Destroyer operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea experienced several close interactions by Russian aircraft on April 11 and 12. USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) encountered multiple, aggressive flight maneuvers by Russian aircraft that were performed within close proximity of the ship. On April 11, Donald Cook was conducting deck landing drills with an Allied military helicopter when two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous, close-range and low altitude passes at approximately 3 p.m. local. One of the passes, which occurred while the Allied helicopter was refueling on the deck of Donald Cook, was deemed unsafe by the ship's commanding officer. As a safety precaution, flight operations were suspended until the SU-24s departed the area. On April 12, while Donald Cook was operating in international waters in the Baltic Sea, a Russian KA-27 Helix helicopter conducted circles at low altitude around the ship, seven in total, at approximately 5 p.m. local. The helicopter passes were also deemed unsafe and unprofessional by the ship's commanding officer. About 40 minutes following the interaction with the Russian helicopter, two Russian SU-24 jets made numerous close-range and low altitude passes, 11 in total. The Russian aircraft flew in a simulated attack profile and failed to respond to repeated safety advisories in both English and Russian. USS Donald Cook's commanding officer deemed several of these maneuvers as unsafe and unprofessional. We have deep concerns about the unsafe and unprofessional Russian flight maneuvers. These actions have the potential to unnecessarily escalate tensions between countries, and could result in a miscalculation or accident that could cause serious injury or death. U.S. officials are using existing diplomatic channels to address the interactions, while the incidents are also being reviewed through U.S. Navy channels. -30-
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It was the first time Russia has used the territory of another nation, apart from Syria itself, to launch such strikes since the Kremlin launched a bombing campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year.

It was also thought to be the first time that Iran has allowed a foreign power to use its territory for military operations since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Iranian deployment will boost Russia's image as a central player in the Middle East and allow the Russian air force to cut flight times and increase bombing payloads.

The head of Iran's National Security Council was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying Tehran and Moscow were now sharing facilities to fight against terrorism, calling their cooperation strategic.

Both countries back Assad, and Russia, after a delay, has supplied Iran with its S-300 missile air defense system, evidence of a growing partnership between the pair that has helped turn the tide in Syria's civil war and is testing U.S. influence in the Middle East.

Relations between Tehran and Moscow have grown warmer since Iran reached agreement last year with global powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of U.N., EU and U.S. financial sanctions.

President Vladimir Putin visited in November and the two countries regularly discuss military planning for Syria, where Iran has provided ground forces that work with local allies while Russia provides air power.

TARGET: ALEPPO

The Russian Defence Ministry said its bombers had taken off on Tuesday from the Hamadan air base in north-west Iran. To reach Syria, they would have had to use the air space of another neighboring country, probably Iraq.

The ministry said Tuesday's strikes had targeted Islamic State as well as militants previously known as the Nusra Front in the Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour provinces. It said its Iranian-based bombers had been escorted by fighter jets based at Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria's Latakia Province.

"As a result of the strikes five large arms depots were destroyed ... a militant training camp ... three command and control points ... and a significant number of militants," the ministry said in a statement.

The destroyed facilities had all been used to support militants in the Aleppo area, it said, where battle for control of the divided city, which had some 2 million people before the war, has intensified in recent weeks.

RELATED: Turkey, Syria, and ISIS fighting history

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Turkey, Syria, and ISIS fighting history
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Turkey, Syria, and ISIS fighting history
Protesters run away from tear gas during a demostration in Istanbul on July 24, 2015. Turkey detained 251 people in coordinated nationwide dawn raids against suspected Islamic State (IS) jihadists and Kurdish militants following a wave of deadly violence in the country, the prime minister's office said.AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish riot police fire rubber bullets to disperse protesters during a demostration in Istanbul on July 24, 2015. Turkey detained 251 people in coordinated nationwide dawn raids against suspected Islamic State (IS) jihadists and Kurdish militants following a wave of deadly violence in the country, the prime minister's office said.AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
ADANA, TURKEY - JULY 24: A military aircraft of Turkish Air Force lands at the Incirlik 10th Tanker Base Command in Saricam district, Adana on July 24, 2015. On Friday, Turkish F-16 fighter jets hit three Daesh targets in Syria in the morning. Turkish jets carried out the operation without violating the Syrian airspace, according to a statement by the Prime Ministry. (Photo by Ibrahim Erikan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Syrian Kurdish woman sits by the window of a house in Suruc in Turkey's Sanliurfa province near the border with Syria on June 27, 2015. Kurdish forces drove Islamic State group fighters from the flashpoint Syrian border town of Kobane, after a killing spree by the jihadists left more than 200 civilians dead. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken from the Turkish side of the border in Suruc, Sanliurfa province, shows a Turkish solider standing as smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on June 27, 2015, a day after a deadly suicide bombing occurred. The Islamic State group killed 164 civilians in its offensive on the Kurdish town of Kobane, in what a monitor Friday called one of the jihadists' 'worst massacres' in Syria. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
KOBANE, SYRIA - JUNE 20: (TURKEY OUT) A Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG fighters stand near a check point in the outskirts of the destroyed Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, Syria. June 20, 2015. Kurdish fighters with the YPG took full control of Kobane and strategic city of Tal Abyad, dealing a major blow to the Islamic State group's ability to wage war in Syria. Mopping up operations have started to make the town safe for the return of residents from Turkey, after more than a year of Islamic State militants holding control of the town. (Photo by Ahmet Sik/Getty Images)
TAL ABYAD, SYRIA - JUNE 20: (TURKEY OUT) The picture shows the wreckage left by fighting on a street in the center of the Syrian town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, Syria. June 20, 2015. Kurdish fighters with the YPG took full control of Kobane and strategic city of Tal Abyad, dealing a major blow to the Islamic State group's ability to wage war in Syria. Mopping up operations have started to make the town safe for the return of residents from Turkey, after more than a year of Islamic State militants holding control of the town. (Photo by Ahmet Sik/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - JUNE 16: Turkish soldiers patrol as Syrian refugees walk to cross the Akcakale border gate in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, June 16, 2015. Kurdish fighters took full control on Tuesday of the border town of Tal Abyad, dealing a major blow to the Islamic State group's ability to wage war in Syria by cutting off a vital supply line to its self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. According to Turkish security officials 10,000 people to come across from Syria in last three days.(Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 10: Heavy smoke from a fire caused by a strike rises in Kobani, Syria as fighting intensified between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, as seen from Mursitpinar in the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, October 10, 2014. Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, and its surrounding areas, has been under assault by extremists of the Islamic State group since mid-September and is being defended by Kurdish fighters. (Photo by Gokhan Sahin/Getty Images)
A Turkish soldier stands on a hill, facing the Islamic State (IS) fighters' new position, 10km west of the Syrian city of Ain al-Arab (Kobane) near the Syrian border at the southeastern town of Suruc in the Sanliurfa province on October 2, 2014. Islamic State fighters were at the gates on October 2 of a key Kurdish town on the Syrian border with Turkey, whose parliament was set to vote on authorising military intervention against the jihadists. Kurdish militiamen backed by US-led air strikes were locked in fierce fighting to prevent the besieged border town of Kobane from falling to IS group fighters. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of Turkish medical service stands in the southeastern town of Suruc in the Sanliurfa province as Syrian Kurds cross the border between Syria and Turkey on October 1, 2014. Tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds flooded into Turkey fleeing an onslaught by the Islamic State (IS) group that prompted an appeal for international intervention. Some of the refugees now want to return to protect their homes and join the fight against IS militants. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - SEPTEMBER 29: (TURKEY OUT) Border village of Alizar residents keep guard during the night and wait in fear from mortar fired from Islamic State fighters as they tightened their siege of the strategic town of Kobani on Syria's border with Turkey on September 29, 2014 in Sanliurfa, Turkey. Tonight more than 20 mortars hit Turkey's southeastern Turkish town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province. Turkish troops could be used to help set up a secure zone in Syria, if there was an international agreement to establish such a haven for refugees fleeing Islamic State fighters, President Tayyip Erdogan said in comments published on Saturday. Militants still held their positions around 10 kilometres west of Kobane inside Syria, witnesses said, with Kurdish positions the last line of defence between the fighters and the town. Kobane sits on a road linking north and northwestern Syria and Kurdish control of the town has prevented Islamic State fighters from consolidating their gains, although their advance has caused more than 150,000 Kurds to flee to Turkey since last week. (Photo by Stringer/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - SEPTEMBER 28: Smoke is seen rising from the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani following an explosion that was followed by further fighting, which saw IS fighters shoot into Turkey for the first time on September 28, 2014 south of Sanliurfa, Turkey. Islamic State (IS, also called ISIS and ISIL) fighters are reportedly advancing with heavy weaponry on the strategic Kurdish border town of Kobani (also called Ayn Al-Arab), which they have surrounded on three sides. Several hundred thousand refugees are reportedly in Kobani and aid agencies are bracing for a massive exodus into Turkey. (Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
A Kurdish boy stands as another waves to other side near the Syrian border at Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on September 25, 2014. The numbers of Kurdish refugees fleeing into Turkey to escape the advance of Islamic State jihadists in northern Syria has slowed considerably over the last few days, Turkish officials said on September 24.. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 23: (TURKEY-OUT) Smoke and dust rise over Syrian town of Kobani after an airstrike, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, October 23, 2014. The Syrian town of Kobani has yet again seen fierce fighting between Islamic State and Syrian Kurdish forces. Kurdish authorities have agreed to send Peshmerga fighters to the Northern Syrian town to fight ISIL after Turkey has allowed passage. (Photo by Kutluhan Cucel/Getty Images)
ADANA, TURKEY - AUGUST 09: A military aircraft belonging to the United States Air Forces lands on the runway at Incirlik Base in Adana, Turkey on August 9, 2015. Eight military aircrafts belonging to the United States Air Forces were sent to Incirlik Base in Adana as part of the operations against Daesh. (Photo by Volkan Kasik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ADANA, TURKEY - AUGUST 09: A military aircraft belonging to the United States Air Forces lands on the runway at Incirlik Base in Adana, Turkey on August 9, 2015. Eight military aircrafts belonging to the United States Air Forces were sent to Incirlik Base in Adana as part of the operations against Daesh. (Photo by Volkan Kasik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based war monitor, said heavy air strikes on Tuesday had hit many targets in and around Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, killing dozens.

Strikes in the Tariq al-Bab and al-Sakhour districts of northeast Aleppo had killed around 20 people, while air raids in a corridor rebels opened this month into opposition-held eastern parts of the city had killed another nine, the observatory said.

The Russian Defence Ministry says it takes great care to avoid civilian casualties in its air strikes.

Zakaria Malahifi, political officer of an Aleppo-based rebel group, Fastaqim, said he could not confirm if the newly deployed Russian bombers were in use, but said air strikes on Aleppo had intensified in recent days.

"It is much heavier," he told Reuters. "There is no weapon they have not dropped on Aleppo - cluster bombs, phosphorus bombs, and so on."

Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the war, is divided into rebel and government-held zones. The government aims to capture full control of it, which would be its biggest victory of the five year conflict.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped in rebel areas, facing potential siege if the government closes off the corridor linking it with the outside.

Russian media reported on Tuesday that Russia had also requested and received permission to use Iran and Iraq as a route to fire cruise missiles from its Caspian Sea fleet into Syria, as it has done in the past.

Russia has built up its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean and the Caspian as part of what it says are planned military exercises.

Russia's state-backed Rossiya 24 channel earlier on Tuesday broadcast uncaptioned images of at least three Russian Tupolev-22M3 bombers and a Russian military transport plane inside Iran.

The channel said the Iranian deployment would allow the Russian air force to cut flight times by 60 percent. The Tupolev-22M3 bombers, which before Tuesday had conducted strikes on Syria from their home bases in southern Russia, were too large to be accommodated at Russia's own air base inside Syria, Russian media reported.

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