Russia has built up a battalion-sized ground force inside Syria with rocket artillery and its most advanced tanks, the US envoy to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said on Wednesday.
At a news conference in Brussels ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Douglas Lute said Russia’s forces inside Syria also include air defense systems and attack helicopters, a military deployment that is out of the ordinary, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“We will see what they intend to do. Some of the capabilities brought to that Russian base in Latakia [Syria] suggest more than simply base protection,” the US envoy was quoted as saying.
Russia is also said to have built up its naval forces, positioning some 10 ships in the Mediterranean.
But Lute said it is Russian airstrikes that pose the greatest danger, because of the threat of a clash between the US-led coalition and Russian planes.
Russia stepped up its attack on opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with its first naval bombardment Wednesday.
Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Washington is prepared to work with Russia to ensure the skies over Syria stay safe.
But he dismissed the idea of any collaboration on the ground.
“We are not prepared to cooperate in strategy which, as we explained, is flawed, tragically flawed, on the Russians’ part,” Carter said.
Russia is said to have struck some 112 targets since it began airstrikes against opponents of Assad on Sept. 30.
Russian officials say they are targeting Islamic State and other groups its labels terrorists, but Western officials say most strikes appear aimed at other opponents of Assad to bolster his position.
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