Russia appears to be setting up a forward operating base in the Assad controlled coastal city of Latakia, Syria said Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis yesterday, raising concerns about increased Russian support for Syrian President Assad as U.S. led coalition strikes continue against Islamic State targets in northern Syria.
“We have seen indication in recent days that Russia has moved people and things into the area around Latakia, and the airbase there” said Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis on Monday.
Spokesman Davis refused to disclose intelligence details about what kind of “things” were brought into the coastal area of Latakia but he explained that U.S. intelligence hasn’t seen Russian fighter jets, gunships, or helicopters arrive in the region thus far.
Last week-end, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia will continue military aid to Syria.
Reuters reported yesterday that two U.S. military officials disclosed that a half dozen Russian tanks were positioned at an airfield in Latakia.
During a Pentagon press conference yesterday, Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby admitted that Russia’s intent and goal is a little uncertain but he said the U.S. would like to see cooperation with Russia towards some type of political change in Syria.
“What we would like to see is movement towards a political transition in Syria, and as I said last week, we still believe there’s an opportunity to pursue that kind of transition in concert with Russian authorities” said Pentagon Spokesman Kirby.
Spokesman Kirby added that Russian support for the Assad regime makes it difficult to pursue political transition in Syria.
“What will make it incredibly difficult to get there is continued support for the Assad regime from a military perspective. 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” Spokesman Kirby said.
Kirby questioned the logic about why Russia would state their intention to pursue political transition in Syria while simultaneously supporting Assad with military support.
“If you believe that a political transition is necessary away from Assad – and the Russians have indicated in talks with us that they agree that there needs to be a political transition, and that’s what – again, we still think there’s an open opportunity to – if you do believe that, then what would be the logic of propping that same dictator up with military support?” Kirby questioned.
Today Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed a security alliance of ex-Soviet nations in Tajikistan and said that Moscow would continue to provide military support to the Syrian government, according to Channel News Asia.
“It’s obvious that without the Syrian authorities and the military playing an active role, without the Syrian army fighting Islamic State ‘on the ground’, it’s impossible to drive terrorists from this country and from the region as a whole,” Putin said.
Putin’s assessment contrasts with the U.S. view of Pentagon Spokesman Kirby who denied a reporter’s statement yesterday suggesting that most of Assad’s energies or the Syrian army’s energies is actually spent in the fight against ISIS.
“Well, that’s not correct. There are other ground forces in Syria that are fighting ISIL. I’m not going to speak for the Syrian army and to what degree they’re spending their time on ISIL or opposition groups. That’s for them to speak to” Spokesman Kirby said.
“Our issue is on using the coalition and the assets we have to defeat them with a combination of airstrikes and as well as trying to support competent, capable ground forces inside Syria. And there have been some that are not – in fact, the most success that’s been had against ISIL on the ground have been by other forces, not the Syrian army” Spokesman Kirby added.