WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. defense official tells The Associated Press that Russia has launched airstrikes in Syria.

The move follows a unanimous vote by Russian lawmakers to allow President Vladimir Putin to order airstrikes in air strikesSyria, where Russia has deployed fighter jets and other weapons in recent weeks.

The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the airstrikes publicly, said they were launched Wednesday near Homs.

Russia recently moved fighter aircraft to an air base south of the Syrian coastal city of Latakia. U.S. officials had said in recent days that the Russians were flying reconnaissance missions without dropping bombs to familiarize themselves within the area. That was taken as an indication that they were about to begin airstrikes.

 

Putin gets OK to send troops to Syria

MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin says it doesn’t plan to put troops on the ground in Syria, but will only use its air force.

Russian lawmakers have given President Vladimir Putin the OK to send Russian troops to Syria.

Putin and other officials have said Russia has only been providing weapons and training Syria’s army to help it combat the Islamic State group.

Recent satellites images have shown giant Russian military cargo planes in Syria, and Russian navy transport vessels have been shuttling back and forth for weeks.Assad&Putin

 

NEW: Syrian president welcomes Russian announcement

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The office of Syrian President Bashar Assad is welcoming Russia’s decision to send troops to Syria, saying the military support came at the request of Damascus.

Wednesday’s statement says Assad had sent a letter to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, asking for the military support. Assad’s Facebook page also reiterated that the support “came upon a request from the Syrian state.”

The statements came shortly after Russian lawmakers voted unanimously to let Putin send Russian troops to Syria. The Kremlin sought to play down the decision, saying it will only use its air force in the Mideast country, not ground troops.

Russia has been one of Assad’s strongest allies since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011 killing more than 25,000 people and wounding a million.