WH Blames Russia: 'ISIL Now Has Their Hands on a Significant Anti-Aircraft Missile System'

By Susan Jones | December 15, 2016 | 6:02am EST
In this April 14, 2016 file photo, a Syrian man carries a carpet through a devastated part of the town of Palmyra as families load their belongings onto buses in the central Homs province in Syria. The top U.S. general leading the fight against the Islamic State says the militants got control of military equipment and weapons, possibly including air defense equipment, when they recaptured the Syrian town of Palmyra. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

(CNSNews.com) - The Obama administration says far from helping the United States defeat Islamic State terrorists, Russia has unintentionally "heightened" the terrorists' capabilities:

"Russia, nine months ago, touted publicly their success in taking back the Syrian community of Palmyra from ISIL terrorists. Well, we -- we've learned that ISIL has retaken that city from the Syrians and the Russians," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Wednesday.

"In doing so, they didn't just succeed in driving out the Syrian government and the Russians. ISIL now has their hands on a significant anti-aircraft missile system. This is according to reports, so I can't confirm it, but it is -- it does illustrate, if true, the grave danger associated with Russia's failed strategy.

"Their strategy, if they're actually interested in fighting terrorists, should not involve an anti-aircraft missile system because ISIL doesn't have an air force. So why -- what that anti-aircraft missile system was doing in Palmyra is something that only the Syrians and the Russians can explain. But it does underscore the grave risk that Russia is taking by dedicating their resources to attacking innocent civilians in Aleppo and propping up the Assad regime, and taking their eye off the ball when it comes to ISIL.

"In this case, their miscalculation was so grave that it's not just a matter of them ignoring the ISIL threat. The ISIL threat today -- again, if these reports are true -- is worse because of the failed strategy of the Syrians and the Russians. And that's something that only they can account for," Earnest said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, told reporters that ISIS had "managed to get their hands on some equipment" when they took back Palmyra.

"We believe that includes some armored vehicles and various guns and other heavy weapons, possibly some air defense equipment," Townsend said. "Basically, anything they seize poses a threat to the coalition, but we can manage those threats, and we will. I anticipate that we'll -- we'll have opportunities to strike those -- that equipment and kill the ISIL that's operating it soon."

Although Palmyra is part of Russia's "battle space," Townsend said the U.S. is "concerned" about ISIS taking possession of "some significant pieces of weaponry."

"And I think Russia will probably take action," he said. "If they don't, we will do what we need to do to defend ourselves and we'll coordinate -- we'll de-conflict those actions with the Russians.

"I think maybe -- probably, we will strike it if we see it moving away from Palmyra. I think if it stays -- as long as it stays in Palmyra, the Russians will have lead and the regime will have the lead to deal with that."

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