U.S. intel: Russia building military base in war-torn Syria as Washington warns against escalation of conflict

Monday, September 14, 2015 by

(NationalSecurity.news) American intelligence officials have said that Russia appears to be expanding its military support for the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad by expanding its military footprint in the war-torn Middle Eastern nation.

As reported by the UK’s Telegraph, Moscow is building a military base in the Syrian heartland according to U.S. officials, establishing an air traffic control tower and having sent prefabricated housing units that can accommodate up to 1,000 personnel at an airfield which serves the Syrian port city of Latakia.

In addition, the Russian government has requested permission to fly over neighboring countries with military cargo aircraft during the month of September, the paper said.

The new claims raise concerns that Russia wants to expand its role in the Syrian civil war at the risk of raising new tensions with the Obama Administration, which is pursuing anti-Assad measures and envisions a Syria without him presiding over it in the future.

On Friday, President Obama met with King Salman of Saudi Arabia to repeat the demand that any lasting Syrian peace settlement would necessarily require Assad to step down, something he has vowed never to do. That leaves Russia and the United States at loggerheads, officials said.

Up to now, Russian help to Assad had been limited to financial support, intelligence, weapons, spare parts and a few Russian military advisers. But Moscow’s role appears now to be expanding, though Russian President Vladimir Putin stopped short over the weekend of describing the expanded aid as direct intervention. Instead, Putin called that characterization “premature.”

“We are already giving Syria quite serious help with equipment and training soldiers, with our weapons,” he said during an economic forum in Vladivostok on Friday, according to the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

Meanwhile, as reported by The Associated Press, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, over unconfirmed reports “suggesting an imminent enhanced Russian military build-up” in Syria.

State Department officials would not elaborate on the reports. However, they said Kerry made clear to Lavrov that such actions “could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation” with the anti-Islamic State coalition led by the U.S. that is carrying out strikes in Syria.

The Telegraph reported that Russian military involvement has likely already deepened, with Syrian TV showing exclusive footage of Russian troops apparently fighting alongside Syrian government forces last week.

Syrian state television showed images of an advanced Russian-built armored personnel carrier, the BTR-82a, in combat; videos also began circulating in which troops shouted orders to one another in Russian, the paper noted.

Also, last week, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, citing Western sources, reported that Moscow was preparing to send “thousands” of troops into Syria, perhaps in an attempt to help turn the tide of the civil war back to Assad’s favor. Government troops have lost major ground to several factions including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has declared a caliphate in the lands it has conquered.

“Those details appear to be backed by satellite images of a Russian base under construction near Latakia, according to anonymous intelligence officials quoted by several American newspapers,” The Telegraph reported.

The Los Angeles Times reported Sept. 4 that U.S. intelligence satellite imagery appeared to confirm reports that Russia was building a major base near the international airport at Latakia.

“It’s obviously a big concern,” one official told the Times. “If they’re moving people in to help the Syrian government fight their own fight, that’s one thing. But if they’re moving in ground forces and dropping bombs on populated areas, that’s an entirely different matter.”

Follow NationalSecurity.news editor Jon E. Dougherty on Twitter and Google+.

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