Two U.S. officials have confirmed that Russia stationed about half a dozen tanks at an airfield in Syria. It has also stationed artillery to support its military personnel deployed in the region.
According to the two U.S. officials who have spoken with Reuters on condition of anonymity, Russia has deployed t-90 tanks at the airfield near Latakia. The sources told Reuters that Russia has been sending two military cargo flights each day over the past week. A separate diplomatic source, who has also spoken with Reuters on condition of anonymity, said, “There have been trucks going in and out. It appears the runway is not suited to some types of aircraft yet and they have been doing some improvements.”
Meanwhile, satellite images obtained by Foreign Policy, seemed to be speaking in tune with what the two U.S. officials revealed. The images show activities at an air base in Syria described by Foreign Policy as being located near Latakia.
In a press briefing on Monday, spokesperson for the State Department, John Kirby, said that Russia’s intentions of building military airbase in Syria remained unclear; “the ultimate goal, the ultimate intent here, I think there’s still a degree of opaqueness about that.”
“It certainly appears as though they are continuing to support, and perhaps even with additional assets, the Assad regime,” Kirby said, adding that President Barack Obama has already commented on the issue. “President went so far as to say that if that’s true, it’s a mistake and it’s a strategy doomed to fail,” Kirby said quoting Mr. Obama.
Kirby stressed that the administration is keen in working with Russia if it can present a constructive plan against the ISIS. “So should there be some opportunity for Russia to be constructive against ISIL in the country – against ISIL in the country, which is what the coalition is doing – then we’d be open to having that conversation, but it can’t start with open and continued aiding and abetting of the Assad regime,” Kirby told press. He stressed that the government has already expressed it concerns about what Russia is doing in Syria with its partners in the region, including some European countries.
Meanwhile, Pentagon Press secretary, Peter Cook, said the DOD is already tracking Russia’s activities in the region. “The secretary of Defense is watching this situation closely, as the entire department is monitoring this. And we would like to see a positive role for Russia to play in Syria, and further arming and escalating the military conflict in the — and the Assad regime, we think would be counterproductive,” Cook said in a separate press conference.