Contrary to the impression conveyed by Moscow that Russian troops in Syria are not engaged in combat and that none of the sophisticated arms deliveries were destined to the Syrian army, new developments belie both these claims.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that on Wednesday, September 16, Russian R-166-0.5 (ultra) high-frequency signals (HF/VHF) vehicles were spotted on Highway 4, which links Homs and Aleppo. These vehicles, called “mobile war rooms” by the IDF and Western armies, were accompanied by BTR-82 troop carriers transporting Russian marines. The R-166-0.5 enables communication with forces located on battlefields as far as 1,000 kilometers away using high frequency and ultra-high frequency signals.
The communication systems are resistant to electromagnetic jamming so Russian forces operating deep inside Syria can report to their commanders at the main Russian base in Latakia or receive orders, intelligence data and even video from drones or planes.
Another feature is a cylinder on the side of the vehicle containing a folded antenna that can be raised to a height of 15 meters.
The R-166-0.5 is an integral part of Russia’s battlefield operations, so it would not be deployed unless long-distance troop movements were underway. The appearance of those vehicles in the Syrian theater provides a clear signal of Moscow’s intentions.
Our sources point out that during the past few days, fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) succeeded in cutting off part of the highway between Homs and Aleppo for several hours. It marked a very dangerous development for the Syrian army and regime, because a permanent cutoff of Highway 4 would tighten the siege on Aleppo and possibly pave the way for the conquest of the second-largest city in Syria.
The movements by the armored vehicles show that the Russian troops are preparing to head into battle in order to prevent such a scenario.
Moscow has denied supplying new, sophisticated weapons to the Syrian army. However, a Syrian military source revealed Thursday, Sept. 17, that the Syrian military has recently started using new types of air and ground weapons supplied by Russia, underlining growing Russian support to Damascus that is alarming the United States and Israel. "New weapons – and new types of weapons – are being delivered,” said the source which described them as “highly accurate and effective.” The army had started using them in recent weeks having been trained in their use in Syria in recent months. "We can say they are all types of weapons – be it air or ground," he said.
debkafile’s military sources reveal that the Russian shipments for the Syrian army include MI-28 MIL assault helicopters (NATO-coded Havoc), an all-weather aircraft, which can also serve as an anti-tank weapon against the mostly US-made tanks fielded by ISIS and Al Qaeda's Nusra Front Syrian arm.
Our military and intelligence sources point out that Moscow has given itself room to maneuver in terms of its declared goals, telling Washington and Jerusalem during the past few days that its troops will defend their own interests if there is a need to do so. Thus, Russia aims to use its forces in any way that it deems fit.
debkafile’s sources in Washington report an ongoing debate within the Obama administration regarding whether to accept the proposal that was raised during the telephone conversations this week between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Moscow proposed military-to-military talks on ways to prevent a confrontation between its troops in Syria and those of the US-led coalition, saying that the talks would provide a complete and clear understanding of Moscow’s intentions.
Unlike Kerry, who is in favor of taking the Russians up on their proposal, some circles in the administration feel that such talks would ultimately give Russia the green light for its military involvement and that Moscow is in the process of grabbing control of running all military operations in Syria, including those by other countries and groups.
Last week, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s al-Quds brigades, visited Moscow for the second time since April. debkafile’s sources in Moscow point out that this time, unlike his previous visit, Soleimani met with Russia’s National Security Adviser Nikolai Patrushev and a number of generals directly connected to the buildup in Syria, but not with President Vladimir Putin.
The developments in Syria will also take center stage when Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu meets with Putin in Moscow on September 21.