- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2015

The U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State launched only one airstrike Thursday in Syria, far below the daily average of eight, as Russian jets continued to pound various targets in that country.

But Army Col. Steve Warren, the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the U.S. is not retreating after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered allied jets out of Syrian airspace.

“We are continuing operations in Syria. Bottom line,” Col. Warren said.

The one airstrike was on earth excavators in northwestern Syria. Col. Warren said targets are sometimes difficult to find in an air war that critics have said has excessively strict rules of engagement.

Col. Warren called it the “most precise in the history of warfare.”

Of the Russian bombing, Col. Warren said, “We don’t believe they hit Islamic State targets,” which Russia said was the purpose of its sudden intervention with jet fighters and logistics to set up air bases.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the Russians are bombing CIA-backed rebels trying to depose Moscow’s ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.

As to concerns about the increasingly crowded skies over Syria raising the chances of an accident or mistaken shootdown, Col. Warren said “there are a lot of square miles of airspace in Syria.”

In the overall fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS, the spokesman conceded: “They’ve had their share of successes.”

But he said the bombing and Iraqi ground operations have killed thousands of Islamic State fighters.

“We have crushed supply routes,” Col. Warren said.

He acknowledged little progress in taking back the western hub of Ramadi, citing as one reason belts of improvised explosive devices deployed by Islamic State fighters that are difficult to penetrate.

Iraqi forces fled Ramadi in the face of an Islamic State invasion earlier this year.

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