Russia expands military presence in Syria

By Ryan Maass   |   Sept. 21, 2015 at 6:45 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. officials are reporting Russia is expanding its military presence in the Syrian conflict, as the country moves more equipment and begins flying more surveillance missions.

Officials also reported the presence of attack helicopters, transport planes, and fighter jets identified as twin-engine Sukhoi Flankers. Flankers are designed to with U.S.-fighters in terms of maneuverability and air supremacy capabilities. The fighters are built for air-to-air combat.

Russian drone surveillance missions in Syria mark the country's first military operation in the region since the force built up its defensive presence there.

Russian activity over Syrian air space follows the build-up of its foward operating airbase in the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin's government is supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in repressing the Islamic State, also identified as Daesh and by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL. The country is also locked in a civil war with an organization of rebels known as the Free Syrian Army.

The United States has been engaged in a training program to arm dissenting Syrians -- some pulled from the Free Syrian Army -- to take up arms against IS. However, the program has yet to produce an actionable force, with numbers of trainees falling well below Pentagon expectations.

Russia's moves into Syria were met with the reestablishment of military-to-military talks between the United States and Russia, a relationship that was suspended following Russian aggression against Ukraine in March 2014.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made his first call to his Russian counterpart last Friday.

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