Russia uses aircraft carrier for big attack on Syrian rebels

A still image taken from a video footage and released by Russia's Defence Ministry on November 15, 2016, shows Russian Bastion coastal missile launchers launching Oniks missiles at an unknown location in Syria. Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS

SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russia launched coordinated missile strikes against rebels in Syria on Tuesday and Moscow for the first time used its only aircraft carrier in combat, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

Shoigu said a frigate had fired cruise missiles, jets from the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, had been involved in action, and missiles had been loosed from a mobile land-based missile system inside Syria.

In Washington, Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said he was aware of the announcement, but was still looking into the strikes.

“From a pure military perspective, Russia already has significant capabilities inside Syria,” Davis said. “Anything that they bring in from the outside, if it’s aircraft carriers or if it’s cruise missiles launching from ships or if it’s long-range strike bombers flying in from Russia, those are done for show,” Davis added.

Reporting to President Vladimir Putin in southern Russia, Shoigu said Russia had targeted sites associated with Islamic State and the Nusra Front, which has changed its name to Fateh al-Sham, in the Homs and Idlib provinces.

“We carried out exhaustive advance research on all targets,” said Shoigu. “We are talking about warehouses with ammunition, terrorist training centres ... and factories.”

Shoigu said the strikes would continue. He made no mention of Aleppo, where a civil defence official and a resident said air strikes had struck several districts in the rebel-held east of the city for the first time in weeks.

Syrian state television said Syria’s air force carried out strikes on Aleppo on Tuesday. Russia says its air force is for now honouring a unilateral moratorium on hitting rebel targets inside Aleppo.

Reporting by Denis Pinchuk in Sochi and Katya Golubkoba in Moscow; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Jack Stubbs and James Dalgleish