The Obama administration’s hopes for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step aside and make way for a democratic government in Damascus are being dashed once again — this time, by evidence that the dictator’s strongest ally is joining the fight to keep him in power.
According to multiple reports, Russian troops are on the ground to aid Assad forces battling Islamic State militants.
To make matters worse, the Obama administration’s push to train and equip a moderate rebel force has failed to get off the ground. The developments are, in turn, fueling criticism of the U.S. effort to bring peace to the long-running civil war.
“The whole region is in chaos,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Fox News on Thursday.
The State Department has warned that Russia’s latest involvement in Syria could “further escalate the conflict” and “risk confrontation with the anti-ISIL Coalition operating in Syria.”
But Moscow appears to have ignored that warning, despite a second call in five days from Secretary of State John Kerry to his counterpart in Russia expressing “concerns” about the “buildup.”
Program to train rebel army in Syria considered a failure
Reuters now reports that the Russian forces, according to Lebanese sources, are participating in military operations to boost Assad troops. Israel’s defense minister also said Thursday that Russian troops are in Syria to help Assad fight ISIS, and could be looking to launch jets and combat helicopters, the Associated Press reported.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov acknowledged at a news conference Thursday that Moscow indeed is sending military equipment, which he said falls under “existing contracts.” He said Russia “will continue aiding the Syrian government in equipping the Syrian army with all that is necessary for it to prevent a repetition in Syria of the Libyan scenario and other sad events that have occurred in this region, because of an obsession by some of our western partners with ideas of changing unwanted regimes.”
Russia earlier acknowledged it has military experts on the ground, but had not addressed the scope of that effort.
U.S. officials also tell Fox News the Pentagon has observed several Russian military cargo flights into Syria — to date, the Pentagon has seen seven An-124 “Condor” flights to an airbase outside of Latakia, a port city on the Mediterranean, Fox News is told.
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