Exclusive: Syrian army starts using new weapons from Russia - military source
An Airbus Defence and Space satellite image courtesy of Stratfor, a geopolitical intelligence and advisory firm in Austin, Texas, shows the air base at Latakia, Syria on September 15, 2015.
Reuters/www.Stratfor.com/Airbus Defense and Space/Handout
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BEIRUT The Syrian military has recently started using new types of air and ground weapons supplied by Russia, a Syrian military source told Reuters on Thursday, underlining growing Russian support for Damascus that is alarming the United States.
"The weapons are highly effective and very accurate, and hit targets precisely," the source said in response to a question about Russian support. "We can say they are all types of weapons, be it air or ground."
The source said the army had been trained in the use of the weapons in recent months and was now deploying them, declining to give further details other than saying they were "new types."
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Thursday Russia had provided new weapons and trained Syrian troops how to use them, without saying when or naming any specific systems.
He told state television the government would be prepared to go further and ask Russian forces to fight alongside its troops if needed - though he said there were no such soldiers there now.
The Russian government said on Thursday its military support for Damascus was aimed at fighting terrorism, safeguarding Syria's statehood and preventing a "total catastrophe" in the region.
It includes a larger Russian military presence on the ground in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad has faced increased pressure this year from rebels fighting to topple him, but its full scope and intentions remain unclear.
Washington, which wants Assad gone from power, has said it believes Russia is undertaking a significant military buildup which could exacerbate the war.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook condemned any new Russian assistance to Syrian saying it would be "counterproductive to the ultimate solution in Syria, which we think is a political and diplomatic solution, not a military solution."
The United States, along with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have supported insurgents battling to unseat Assad, whose foreign military backing has so far come mostly from Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
A U.S.-led coalition is also bombing Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, raising the prospect of a potential clash between U.S. and Russian air forces.
In a possible sign of a newly assertive posture by Assad, the Syrian air force launched heavy air strikes on the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa, an important base of operations for Islamic State in Syria often targeted by the U.S.-led coalition.