The latest news of Russia’s steady military buildup in Syria involves fighter jets — undermining the idea that Russia intends to fight Islamic State.
Russia has spent weeks gradually consolidating a base in Latakia, near Syria’s Mediterranean, in order to support the embattled regime of President Bashar Assad. According to The Wall Street Journal, the base now includes a 2,000-soldier barracks, artillery and helicopters for transportation and attacks. (RELATED: Selfies And Spies Prove That Russian Troops Are Fighting In Syria)
But the planes are fighters, meant not for bombing runs or transportation but for shooting down other aircraft. Islamic State, Russia’s stated target in Syria, has used the occasional drone for surveillance but does not have any aerial combat assets.
The two most active foreign air forces in Syria are those of the U.S. and Turkey.
U.S. intelligence on the aircraft first arrived Friday morning, shortly before a 50-minute phone call between Defense Secretary Ash Carter and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoygu. According to a Pentagon statement to the Journal, Shoygu said the movement of aircraft is “defensive in nature” and a fulfillment to “commitments made to the Syrian government.”
Secretary of State John Kerry also stated Friday that the U.S. welcomes military-to-military negotiations regarding Syria, seeking “common ground” between the two countries. While U.S. policy in Syria has included Assad’s expulsion for years, Russia is one of Assad’s staunchest foreign allies. (RELATED: US Rejected A Russian Offer For Peace In Syria 3 YEARS AGO)
The news also comes amid a significant public upset to American ground strategy against Assad and Islamic State — the admission that there are only “four or five” U.S.-trained soldiers in the country — and the revelation that White House officials are seriously reconsidering their approach to Syria.
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