Mon, Sep 07, 2015 - Page 7 News List

US worried over Russian Syria news

MILITARY PLANS?The ‘New York Times’ said housing and an air-traffic control tower could be part of plans by Moscow to establish a supply station to support Damascus

Reuters, WASHINGTON

US Secretary of State John Kerry told his Russian counterpart on Saturday that the US was deeply concerned about reports that Moscow was moving toward a major military build-up in Syria widely seen as aimed at bolstering Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

US authorities have detected “worrisome preparatory steps,” including transport of prefabricated housing units for hundreds of people to a Syrian airfield, that could signal that Russia is readying deployment of heavy military assets there, a senior US official told reporters.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Moscow’s exact intentions remained unclear, but that Kerry called Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov to leave no doubt of the US’ position.

The State Department pointed to media accounts suggesting an “imminent enhanced Russian military build-up” in Syria.

“The secretary made clear that if such reports were accurate, these actions could further escalate the conflict, lead to greater loss of innocent life, increase refugee flows and risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL coalition operating in Syria,” the State Department said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Russia’s actions could signal an intensified effort to support al-Assad, a long-time Russian ally who has seen the area he controls whittled down to a fifth or less of Syria’s territory after more than four years of grinding civil war.

Among the latest steps by Russia is the delivery of the temporary housing units and a portable air-traffic control station to an airfield near the port city of Latakia, an al-Assad stronghold, the US official said.

The Russians have also filed military overflight requests with neighboring countries, the US official said.

In addition, Russia has dispatched a military advance team to Syria, the New York Times reported.

It cited unnamed US officials saying that while there was no indication Russia intended to send in significant ground forces, the housing could accommodate as many as 1,000 military advisers and other personnel and enable the airfield to be a supply hub or a launching pad for Russian airstrikes.

However, the official told reporters: “It is inconclusive exactly what the Russians’ intent is. We have not seen the actual deployment of military assets or aircraft or forces.”

The official said the conclusions were drawn from a “variety of sources.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that US intelligence gathered the evidence from satellite reconnaissance photographs.

A US security source told reporters there were signs of a Russian move to intervene in Syria beyond its already robust military support role, which have included weapons and training.

The source said the US will be watching to see whether any increased Russian military role will be used strictly to help al-Assad or to push back the Islamic State, which has seized swathes of Syria and Iraq and is the target of a US-led coalition bombing campaign.

The US official declined to say how Lavrov had responded to Kerry’s concerns.

The State Department said the two agreed in New York that talks on the Syrian conflict would continue this month, with the UN General Assembly to meet in the city.

Lavrov said last month that the US should cooperate with al-Assad to fight the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

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