The regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has begun using new weapons provided by Russia, Reuters learned from an unnamed Syrian military source.
“The weapons are highly effective and very accurate, and hit targets precisely,” the source said when asked about Russian support. “We can say they are all types of weapons, be it air or ground.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which uses a network of sources on the ground to monitor the conflict in Syria, revealed that the Assad military has recently started using new weapons, including guided air-to-surface missiles.
“There are modern weapons that the regime didn’t previously have, be they rocket launchers or air to ground to missiles,” said Rami Abdulrahman, the Observatory’s chief.
The comments underline America’s concern with Russia’s growing support for the government of Syria.
On August 28, the State Department, in a statement highlighting U.S. Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney’s visit to Moscow to discuss the ongoing conflict in Syria with Russian officials, said, “The United States remains strongly committed to achieving a genuine, negotiated political transition away from Bashar al-Assad that brings an end to the violence and leads to a future that fulfills Syrians’ aspirations for freedom and dignity.”
“The United States supports the Syrian people’s aspirations for a democratic, inclusive, and unified Syria. The regime of Bashar al-Assad has violently suppressed what began as a peaceful protest movement in 2011,” it continued. “Assad has proven through his brutal and repressive tactics that he has lost all legitimacy, and he must go as part of a genuine political transition.”
The State Department went on to note that the United States is leading an international coalition to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
“We are cognizant that Assad’s continued tenure fuels extremism and inflames tensions in the region,” said the State Department. “That is why a political transition is not only necessary for the good of the people of Syria, but an important part of the fight to defeat the extremists.”
Earlier this week, when asked if the Department of Defense (DoD) was planning to take action to prevent Russia’s military buildup in Syria, Peter Cook, Pentagon press secretary, said the U.S. was closely tracking the situation and had voiced its concerns to the Russians.
The DoD spokesman said America views any military support to the Assad regime as “counterproductive to the ultimate solution in Syria, which we think is a political and diplomatic solution, not a military solution.”
According to the Syrian military source who spoke to Reuters, the Assad army has been recently trained to operate “new types” of air and ground weapons provided by Russia.
The anonymous source declined to provide any further details, only saying the weapons have already been deployed for use.
On Thursday, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem acknowledged that Russia had supplied new weapons and trained Assad regime troops how to use them, without specifying when or revealing the name of any specific weapons.
“He told state television the [Syrian] government would be prepared to go further and ask Russian forces to fight alongside its troops if needed – though he said there were no such soldiers there now,” reports Reuters.
“The Russian government said on Thursday its military support for Damascus was aimed at fighting terrorism, safeguarding Syria’s statehood and preventing a ‘total catastrophe’ in the region,” adds the report.
Reuters points out that the full scope and intentions of Russia expanding its military presence in Syria remain unclear.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration declared that it was weighing how to respond to a Russian proposal for military negotiations over Syria, which Reuters notes may be about “deconfliction” — ensuring that Washington and Moscow air forces do not come into conflict in Syria.
The United States “remains open to tactical, practical discussions” with Russia over the fight against ISIS in Syria, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Thursday.
Assad’s support has primarily originated from Iran and its proxy, the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah.
The U.S.-led coalition’s presence in Syria and Iraq raises the possibility of a potential clash between America and Russian air forces, notes Reuters.
U.S. assessments indicate that Russia has deployed “about 200 naval infantry forces, battle tanks, artillery and other equipment to an airfield near [Syria’s port city of] Latakia,” reveals the article.
“U.S. officials said on Wednesday the United States had identified a small number of Russian helicopters at a Syrian airfield,” adds the report. “Russia has been sending about two military cargo flights a day to an air base at Latakia on the government-controlled Syrian coast, U.S. officials say.”