Russia appears to have a partner in its mission in Syria to prop up the Assad regime.
Fox News is reporting that Iran has deployed troops to the region to conduct ground operations in coordination with Russian airstrikes.
“It has always been understood in this building that the Russians would provide the air force, and the Iranians would provide the ground force in Syria,” one official said.
Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters: “We know the Iranians are a part of this. We’ve known that since day one.” Officials could not disclose the size of the Iranian force, due to the sensitive nature of the information.
Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the Quds Force commander, is overseeing the operation in Syria. The general traveled to Moscow in August, which is when the deal was likely struck.
Former Deputy Asst. Sec. of Defense K.T. McFarland told Fox News: “So we now have a new alliance in the Middle East: Russian, Iran, Iraq, [Syria’s Assad regime]…a Shiite crescent throughout the region.” She added: “The problem is, we’re not sure where it is going, and we are not sure who they are targeting.”
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Russia airstrikes are not being directed primarily against ISIS, but rebel forces fighting the Assad regime, who are backed by the United States.
One of [Wednesday’s] airstrikes hit an area primarily held by rebels backed by the Central Intelligence Agency and allied spy services, U.S. officials said, catapulting the Syrian crisis to a new level of danger and uncertainty. Moscow’s entry means the world’s most powerful militaries—including the U.S., Britain and France—now are flying uncoordinated combat missions, heightening the risk of conflict in the skies over Syria…
Russia has built up its military presence in Syria in recent weeks to support Mr. Assad after he suffered a series of battlefield setbacks and acknowledged publicly that he could no longer hold on to all of the country after more than four years of war. During the buildup, Moscow said its intent was to fight Islamic State and conflated opponents of the regime with terrorists.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow last week to coordinate with the Russians in the hopes of avoiding any unintended confrontations between their two nations’ military forces. President Vladimir Putin assured Netanyahu his country’s actions in the region would be “responsible.”
Reuters reports that the prime minister is worried that top-of-the-line Russian military equipment could end up in the hands of Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters, who are also on the ground supporting the Assad regime.