MIAMI, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- The head of Cuba's military recently visited Syria with soldiers, lending to speculation that Cuba may deploy ground troops in the conflict recently joined by Russia.
The University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies on Tuesday revealed that Gen. Leopoldo Cintra Frias, minister of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, visited Syria with a group of Cuban military personnel in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The institute believes the Cuban military will aid Syrian and Russian efforts to combat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's enemies, including several rebel groups and the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, Daesh or ISIS.
"The Cuban military contingent will be primarily deployed in Syria manning Russian tanks provided to Assad by the Russians," the institute said in a statement. "It will also operate as a military force against ISIS and other opponents of the Assad regime."
An anonymous U.S. official confirmed to Fox News on Wednesday that Cuban paramilitary and special forces units were on the ground in Syria. The source also said Cuban troops may have trained in Russia before arriving in Syria on Russian planes.
Russia recently began conducting airstrikes to aid Assad, a long-time ally, against IS targets, but Russian military aircraft have also admittedly targeted rebel forces who oppose Assad's rule, including some rebels who the United States considers moderates.
More than 250,000 people have died and more than 4 million have been displaced by the Syrian civil war. A U.S.-led coalition has carried out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq for more than a year.
The Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies said Cuba's involvement in the Syrian civil war in order to aid Russia has roots seen in history.
"This is not the first time that Cuban military personnel have been involved in international military missions in support of Russian objectives. In the 1970s, Cuba sent several hundred thousand troops to Angola and other African countries while the Soviets provided weapons to support African leaders attempting to gain power in their countries," the institute added. "In 1973, Cuba sent troops to Syria to support them in the Yom Kippur War against Israel. Cuba also sent military officers to observe Israeli military tactics and to advise Assad."