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Syria conflict: Russia and Turkey ‘in first joint air strikes on IS’

Russia has jets stationed at Hmeimim air base inside Syria

Russian and Turkish jets have carried out their first joint strikes on so-called Islamic State (IS) inside Syria, the Russian defence ministry says.

IS was targeted in the suburbs of the town of al-Bab, Aleppo province, where Turkey suffered heavy casualties last month battling the group on the ground.

Turkey’s military was quoted by Reuters as saying Russia had carried out air strikes “in co-ordination with Turkey”.

Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in Syria’s five-year civil war.

Moscow intervened militarily in support of President Bashar al-Assad in 2015, while Ankara has funded and armed his opponents.

Yes, a Turkish F-16 fighter shot down a Su-24 bomber on 24 November 2015, while the Russian plane was on a mission in the Syrian border area. One of the crew was killed while the other was rescued.

This clash between Russia and a Nato state caused a crisis in relations between the two countries, with Moscow imposing sanctions which hurt the Turkish economy.

It only ended after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly expressed regret.

Since then, the two countries have not only mended economic ties but worked together last month to secure a nationwide truce in Syria that is still in place despite violations.

Along with Iran, they are organising peace talks due to begin in the Kazakh capital, Astana, on Monday.

It is unusual, to say the least, for the Russian air force to conduct joint air strikes alongside a Nato member like Turkey.

While Russian sources have listed the aircraft involved, it is still not clear this was a joint operation. For example, did each country’s warplanes strike a discrete set of targets?

What we do know is that Turkish ground forces are making heavy weather of their assault on the IS positions in and around al-Bab. Ties between Moscow and Ankara have been warming of late as Turkey adjusts to the Russian-backed recapture of Aleppo by Syrian government forces.

But to complicate the picture further, US warplanes have recently resumed support for Turkish operations in the al-Bab area as well.

Turkey’s main strategic goal is to contain the advance of Kurdish fighters who themselves are allies of the Americans. It is seeking to secure a wedge of territory between two Kurdish-controlled enclaves. Syria’s battle lines are as complex as ever.

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