WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Eighty-five to 90 percent of Russian strikes in Syria have hit the moderate Syrian opposition, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East told a congressional committee on Wednesday.
Russia boosted its military support for President Bashar al-Assad's fight against rebels in the four-and-a-half year Syrian civil war, beginning air strikes last month that it said would also target the Islamic State militant group.
"Moscow has cynically tried to claim that its strikes are focused on terrorists, but so far 85 to 90 percent of Syrian strikes have hit the moderate Syrian opposition," Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson told lawmakers.
Testifying with her, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe, Victoria Nuland, said Russia had also begun to deploy ground assets such as artillery to areas Assad forces have lost to the moderate opposition, including near the cities of Hama and Homs.
"Russia is fielding its own artillery and other ground assets around Hama and Homs, greatly increasing Russia's own soldiers' vulnerability to counterattack," Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, said.
Patterson also told the House hearing that President Barack Obama is considering additional ways to "intensify" the campaign against the Islamic State, which has seized swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.
"The president is looking at a number of other efforts to intensify our efforts in this battle," she said.
The Obama administration last week announced it would send fewer than 50 special operations forces into Syria in an advise and assist capacity, weeks after Russia escalated its involvement in the conflict with its own air strikes.
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