Russia has sent two tank landing ships and additional aircraft to Syria in the past day or so and has deployed a small number of forces there, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, in the latest signs of a military buildup that has put Washington on edge.
The two U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the intent of Russia’s military moves in Syria remained unclear.
U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that Moscow may be laying the groundwork for an air combat role in Syria’s conflict to bolster Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad, a longtime Russian ally, has seen the area he controls whittled down to a fifth or less of Syria’s territory after more than four years of grinding civil war.
An official with the Russian defense ministry declined to comment.
A traditional arms supplier to Damascus, Moscow has supported Assad throughout the war that has fractured Syria and has said it strongly opposes Islamic State, a militant group that is also the target of a U.S.-led air campaign.
One of the U.S. officials said initial indications suggested the focus was on preparing an airfield near the port city of Latakia, a stronghold of Assad.
The officials estimated that dozens of the naval infantry forces had recently arrived at the airfield, possibly to help provide security.
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