President Bashar al-Assad has traveled to Moscow in his first known trip abroad since war broke out in Syria in 2011, meeting his strongest ally Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The two leaders stressed that military operations in Syria, in which Moscow is the latest and most powerful addition, must lead to a political process. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu commented on the trip saying, “If only he could stay in Moscow longer, to give the people of Syria some relief; in fact, he should stay there so the transition can begin.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Putin on Wednesday, expressing his concerns over the Syrian military’s recent strikes in Aleppo. Erdogan also stressed the importance of “fighting all terrorist groups,” underlining the link between the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Kurdish PYD in northern Syria, and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). [AP, Reuters, 10/21/2015]

Russia to continue military assistance to Syria; Syrian army denies Russian ground forces fighting
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu confirmed on Wednesday that Russia will continue to provide military support to Syria’s government in its fight against ISIS militants. “We plan to continue to provide help to the lawful authorities in Syria and create the preconditions for a resolution of this conflict.” The Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday its planes had flown forty-six sorties and struck eighty-three militant targets in Syria in the last 24 hours. The Syrian army denied Russian ground troops are fighting alongside its forces, saying Moscow was only deploying air power in Syria. In a statement issued late on Tuesday on the Syrian news agency SANA, a military source said that Russia’s three-week-old military operations were limited to aerial bombing of terrorist hideouts, command centers, and weapons depots. Russia also denies that Russian soldiers have died recently in Syria, though a senior pro-government military source said that at least three Russians had been killed fighting alongside Syrian government forces in the coastal province of Latakia. [Reuters, 10/21/2015]

Canada pulls out support for coalition bombing in Syria
Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that he had spoken with President Barack Obama and told him he will remove Canada’s six fighter jets from the US-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. [AP, 10/21/2015]

Syrian Kurds formalize control over area near Turkish border
Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria have formalized control over an area at the Turkish border captured from ISIS in June, a Kurdish official said. The area includes the town of Tel Abyad, captured by the Kurdish YPG militia with help from US-led air strikes. An official in the Syrian Kurdish administration Delil Osman said the area had been declared a new province—or “canton”—the fourth such area declared by the Kurds in northern Syria since the eruption of the country’s war. Syria’s Kurds deny they want to establish their own state, but Turkey is alarmed by their territorial gains, which it fears could stir separatism among its own Kurdish minority. [Reuters, 10/21/2015]

US general wins assurance Iraq will not seek Russia air strikes
The United States won assurances from Iraq on Tuesday that it would not seek Russian air strikes against ISIS, said US Marine General Joseph Dunford. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, under pressure to show progress in his war against the extremist group, said on October 1 that he would welcome Russian air strikes in his country. Iraq’s ruling National Alliance and powerful Shia militias have also urged Abadi to request Russian air strikes on the militants. Dunford, on his first visit to Iraq since becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Abadi and Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi both told him they were not seeking Russia’s help. Dunford pledged to seek new ways to build momentum against ISIS and challenged descriptions of the conflict as a stalemate, after an advance, which secured most of the strategic Baiji oil refinery. [Reuters, AP, 10/20/2015]