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U.S., French, Russian Airstrikes Continue To Attack ISIS Targets In Syria


The French stepped up airstrikes in Syria right after the ISIS attacks on Paris. The Russians have also joined in. That happened after Russia announced that a bomb likely planted by ISIS brought down a Russian passenger jet in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us with the latest on the fight against ISIS. And Tom, to start, this is a change for the Russians, right? Before this, there were complaints from the U.S. that Russia had only been striking rebels who oppose their ally Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: You know, Audie, it is quite a change. The Russians launch large bombers, some firing cruise missiles targeting Raqqah. And that, of course, is the de facto ISIS capital. And this is the first time Russia reached out to the U.S. and told them about this planned attack. Remember, they set up this system where pilots and commanders can talk to one another. But a spokesman for the American-led coalition, Colonel Steve Warren - he told reporters today, this is not the start of some alliance with Russia. Let's listen.


COLONEL STEVE WARREN: The Russians contacted us and told us what they were going to do. And we acknowledged it, and then - and everybody continued on with their mission. We, right now, here on the ground, are not in any type of communications or coordination with the Russians.


All right. So no coordination with the Russians, as Colonel Warren said, but the U.S. is working with the French, who have also stepped up their bombing.

BOWMAN: That's right. After the Paris attacks, French warplanes also targeted the Syrian city of Raqqah with a number of strikes, and we expect that to continue. The French now, we're told, undertake about 12 percent of the coalition strikes. They're at number two behind the U.S.

But, Audie, it's important to note than number two is very far behind the U.S. The U.S. conducts roughly 80 percent of all airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. But the French will do more, we're told. In the coming days, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will arrive in the Persian Gulf. It has dozens of warplanes, and that will increase the French participation here.

CORNISH: It's been a few days. These increased airstrikes - are they having any effect?

BOWMAN: Well, a lot of air advocates will say they're too little, to light. And what they're doing now is chipping away at ISIS troops, weaponry and commands posts, also their sources of money as well. Among the targets are oil tankers. ISIS makes a lot of money - about half of all its money, estimated - on the black market with smuggled oil. So the U.S. has hit more than 100 oil trucks. And they actually drop leaflets telling drivers who are civilians - they say not ISIS members - get out of your truck and run. And then they hit the trucks.

CORNISH: Tom, our reporter Alice Fordham reporting from Iraq said that Kurdish forces have taken back the city of Sinjar in Northern Iraq. Can you talk more about the ground war?

BOWMAN: Well, there have been some successes like Sinjar. And next-door in Syria, the U.S. is providing weapons and ammunition to Syrian and Kurdish forces. And they're on the move toward the city of Raqqah that we just talked about being bombed. And they've grabbed some small villages here and there. But I'm told that they just don't have enough forces to recapture Raqqah, so that's going to be a problem in the weeks ahead.

And in Iraq, you have a different problem in places like Ramadi, the city just west of Baghdad. The Iraqi's have a 10 to 1 advantage against ISIS - 10 to 1, but they're just not moving. And it's been months. And they've been trained by the Americans. They have assistance on clearing roadside bombs. The Americans have stepped up air attacks. They're just not moving. And today, Colonel Warren said, listen; they have everything they need. It's time for the Iraqis, he said, to make the final move and get Ramadi cleared. Don't expect it anytime soon.

CORNISH: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.