Russia has expanded its military operations in Syria to include a second airbase as well as other posts, according to a U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence from the region – even as President Obama expresses muted optimism that Russian President Vladimir Putin eventually will “shift” his strategy and work with the West.
Moscow’s presence has grown to a total of four forward operating bases, including recently added bases in Hama and Tiyas. But the most concerning to the Pentagon is the second airbase in Shayrat which can support fixed-wing aircraft, greatly expanding Russia’s capability for airstrikes, which began on Sept. 30.
Since September, Russia has based its warplanes and helicopters at Basel al-Assad airbase in Latakia, one of the last remaining Assad strongholds along the Mediterranean coast. While the Pentagon cannot confirm any Russian military jets have landed at Shayrat, there are reports Russia has landed aircraft in the past few hours.
Russia’s two other forward operating bases are used to land its attack helicopters employed to defend the Assad regime against Syrian rebels.
But when asked if the move to expand to a second airbase was defensive in nature in case Syrian rebels succeed in destroying the Latakia base, one of the U.S. officials pushed back.
“This is an expansion, not a defensive move at all,” the official said. He said Syrian rebels were nowhere close to taking the Russian airbase in Latakia.
Russia’s air fleet in Syria could increase from 38 up to 100 war planes. Russia could also add 1,000 ground troops.
Prior Latakia deployment
According to the Alrai report, members of the Russian army have been acting as protection for the T-90 tanks on the ground protecting the airbase at Latakia and elsewhere.
Why is Russia in Syria
Many observers have argued that the Russian military operation in Syria is a bold challenge to the United States in the region. In this regard, Russia’s decision to stand with its ally is especially important. Obama’s administration abandoned Mubarak, a long-time American ally, yet the Kremlin, in even more complicated circumstances, is helping Assad. This situation gives regional leaders something to think about.
SOURCES – National Interest, Value Walk, Fox News