Russia Troop Count Surges to 4,000 in Syria

Russian troops Sergei KrasnoukhovReuters
Sergei Krasnoukhov/Reuters
Washington, DC

Russia’s military presence in Syria has grown to roughly 4,000 personnel, as Moscow continues to wage an ongoing air campaign in support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the country.

But even with Russian support and assistance from Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, the Syrian regime has failed to push back the Sunni insurgency throughout much of the country, U.S. officials told Reuters.

In the past month or so, Moscow has doubled its force in the region, growing from 2,000 troops to 4,000 from September to November. Additionally, Russia has continued to develop military bases to account for the additional soldiers, U.S. officials said.

According to the report, U.S. officials estimate that Russia now has 34 fixed-wing aircraft and 16 helicopters deployed in Syria.

“They have a lot of people outside the wire,” An unnamed defense official said, stating Russia now had four operational air bases in the country.

The U.S. intelligence sources told Reuters they have been able to confirm that Moscow is suffering casualties, and deaths, in the ongoing civil war, but do not have a precise head count.

However, Russia continues to insist that its ground forces are only in the country to act as advisers to forces loyal to Assad. The claim is comparable to the U.S. announcement that recently-deployed American special forces troops to Syria will not act as a fighting force. President Obama announced last week that 50 special operations troops will be on the ground in Syria to “advise” the Sunni and Kurdish rebels.

Washington has been able to track their movements thanks to imagery intelligence and its human assets on the ground, which are largely made up of Kurdish fighters and moderate Sunni forces.

One of the reasons for the surge in Russian troops is to provide artillery support for Assad’s forces in the contested cities of Hama and Homs, said Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs.

“Russia is fielding its own artillery and other ground assets around Hama and Homs, greatly increasing Russia’s own soldiers’ vulnerability to counterattack,” Nuland said.

But thanks to the powerful U.S.-made TOW missiles that have gotten into the hands of rebels groups via Saudi Arabia, Assad’s advances have been minimized, the report adds.

One analyst predicted that Russia could again double its troop count in Syria to provide the momentum needed for forces loyal to Assad.

“What has most likely happened is that as soon as the Russians had enough forces in theater to start military operations, they did,” Christopher Harmer, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, told Reuters. “The increase to 4,000 is simply the logistical tail to support the combat tooth.”