“To me, it was representative of what you’d expect from dumb bombs, being dropped from airplanes at medium altitudes, which is not that impressive,” Otto told journalists from the Defense Writers Group.
Syrian opposition groups have charged that the first day of Russian air strikes killed 36 civilians, including children. Russian officials have denied it, but Otto suggested that Russia’s tactics would invariably result in civilian casualties and trigger a backlash against the Kremlin.
“I think precision matters,” he said. “If they approach this with indiscriminate bombing, then I think it’s going to create second or third effects for them.”
In contrast, Otto said the U.S. military and its allies have been exceptionally cautious in selecting targets in Syria and Iraq, to the point of slowing down their campaign of airstrikes until they can be sure that no civilians are present. In addition to using guided weapons, the U.S.-led coalition relies heavily on drones and other surveillance aircraft to observe potential targets before approval is given to strike.
“Our approach has been to be very cautious with the application of force,” he said. “If at the end of the day you inadvertently kill innocent men, women and children, then there’s a backlash from that. And so we might kill three, and create 10 terrorists.”
Although Obama administration officials have said there is room for Russia to join their military coalition against Islamic State, Otto made clear that he didn’t see much potential for the two adversaries to collaborate beyond working to ensure that they don’t inadvertently run into each other in the skies over Syria.
“I’d be hard pressed to think of what intelligence I’d want to share with the Russians at this point,” he said. “Speaking just for myself, I have a low level of trust with the Russians.”