BERLIN — In the seven days before the announcement early Friday that a cease-fire might go into effect in Syria in another week, Russian forces hit more than 100 times as many targets within the embattled nation as a military coalition that includes the United States.
Exactly how the cease-fire proposed at an international conference in Munich would work is still being decided. The agreement announced by Russian and U.S. officials said “a nationwide cessation of hostilities … should apply to any party currently engaged in military or paramilitary hostilities” except the Islamic State, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate — Jabhat al Nusra — “or other groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United Nations Security Council.”
Since Russia considers any organization attacking the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad a terrorist group, the question arises of just how its efforts might change.
And those efforts are substantial, as a weekly report by the Russian Ministry of Defense makes clear. In a report posted Thursday on its website, the ministry noted that its jets flew 510 combat sorties and hit 1,888 “terrorist objects” in Syria. The previous week’s report claimed 464 sorties that hit a total of 1,354 “terrorist objects.”
Daily reports from the U.S. military for the same period indicate a much lower level of activity: 16 targets struck in Syria. The reports also said those forces hit 91 targets in Iraq.
The reports suggest Russia has been far more aggressive than the United States has leading up to the cease-fire proposal.
The most recent Russian report, for instance, notes, “During air duty mission, Su-25 attack aircraft detected three hardware columns transporting militants, armament and munitions along the highway al Qaryatayn-Homs. The strike resulted in elimination of nine heavy trucks with munitions and more than 40 militants.”
A Feb. 9 report from U.S. Central Command gave that day’s actions this way: “Near Kobani, one strike struck an ISIL tactical unit. Near Manbij, one strike struck an ISIL tactical unit. Near Mar’a, one strike struck an ISIL tactical unit and destroyed an ISIL fighting position.”
The reports also note, “Coalition nations which have conducted strikes in Syria include Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.”
The Russian reports refer to “aircraft of the Russian aviation group in the Syrian Arab Republic.” The Russian Ministry of Defense, in a statement on its website, noted, “Terrorists are suffering significant losses caused by aviation strikes of the Russian Aerospace Forces.”
The pace of the Russian air campaign is thought to have changed the course of battle near Aleppo, once Syria’s business hub and largest city. The British newspaper The Guardian on Friday quoted Bahar al Halabi, described as a member of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army who was inside Aleppo, saying, “The regime is advancing quite quickly. … We have very little left. Nothing can change things now. I can’t lie and say that the position of the FSA is strong.”
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