Russian forces have started participating in military operations in Syria in support of government troops, Reuters reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
“The Russians are no longer just advisors,” a Lebanese source was quoted as saying. “[They] have decided to join the war against terrorism.”
According to the report, the Russians were establishing two bases in Syria, one near the coast and one further inland which would be an operations base.
However, a source said the number of Russians involved so far is small.
Russia’s increased military involvement in Syria is sparking concerns in Washington. The White House said it is closely monitoring the situation.
According to unidentified US officials, Moscow has sent two tank landing ships and additional cargo aircraft to Syria in the past day or so and deployed a small number of naval infantry forces to help the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia says the Syrian government must be incorporated into a shared global fight against Islamic State, the jihadist group also known as ISIL that has taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq.
The United States and Assad’s regional foes see him as part of the problem.
“We would welcome constructive Russian contributions to the counter-ISIL effort, but we’ve been clear that it would be unconscionable for any party, including the Russians, to provide any support to the Assad regime,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
Moscow confirmed it had “experts” on the ground in Syria, but has declined to comment on the scale and scope of its military presence.
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