DOD calls Russian military activity in Syria a ‘military build-up’

FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2012 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after talks in Damascus, Syria. Lavrov said Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, that Russian aircraft flying into Syria have been delivering weapons along with humanitarian supplies. (AP Photo/Pool, File)

The U.S. Department of Defense is calling Russia’s military activity in Syria a military build-up and is comparing it to the Russian activity in Crimea last year.

According to NBC News, the Russian military has brought in dozens of armored vehicles, ground support vehicles, and artillery. Even though the assets all point to ground combat, the officials said that the U.S. does not know what Russia is planning in Syria.

One of the officials said that Russia is continuing to extend and improve a runway near Latakia, and also constructing hangars for aircrafts over there.

The Russians have also set up an air control tower at the runway, which, according to the official, indicates that the Russians are getting ready for the arrival of a squadron of fighter aircraft.

On Saturday, BBC reported that Russian cargo planes arrived in the city of Latakia. According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov, the cargo planes were sent to set up a tent camp for more than 1,000 refugees.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also said that Russia is airlifting weapons to Syria, a longtime ally, and Russian troops are training the Syrian army on how to use them.

The U.S. doesn’t have a current figure for how many Russian troops that are operating in Syria. Some estimates put the number at 100, but one defense official said the Russians could additional have military there in plain clothes.

Besides the ground troops, Russia has at least two military ships at the Syrian port of Tartus. The U.S. believes that the ships are carrying equipment, supplies, and vehicles.

US officials have said Russia may be giving President Assad extra military support because he has suffered substantial territorial losses to the rebels.

On Tuesday, Bulgaria refused to allow Russian aircrafts to cross its air space due to fears that Russia was sending extra military support to Syria. Russia eventually received permission from Iranian officials to fly over their airspace en route to Syria.

On Friday, President Obama expressed concern about Russia’s increased military activity in Syria, particularly at the air base near Latakia.

While Russia has backed the Syrian government and provided it with arms, the U.S. wants to see President Assad removed. There hasn’t yet been any direct conversation between the United States and Russia about the ongoing situation.

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