US, Russia Pour Troops into Syria to Buttress their New Pact

The US and Russia are building up their military strength on the ground in Syria to underpin the Obama-Putin accord for ending the Syrian war (which first sees light in this special issue of DEBKA Weekly).
The two powers have set up new bases in the Kurdish enclaves of the north – by common consent to back the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its YPG militia.
American forces have moved quietly into the disused Remelan air base near the Kurdish city of Hassakeh, while Russia has streamed forces to a base near Qamishli, 85 km to the northwest.
Neither the White House nor the Pentagon has commented on DEBKA Weekly’s disclosures about the newly renovated base, which our military sources report houses US surveillance and attack helicopters. After US engineering units widen its runway, the facility will also serve cargo transports and eventually warplanes.
An adjacent facility is ready to accommodate US ground troops, in line with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s comment on Jan. 22: “We’re looking for opportunities to do more, and there will be boots on the ground – I want to be clear about that.”
The Russian command is sending artillery-armed Special Forces to buttress the Syrian army’s weak spots, mainly outside two cities – Hama in the central region and Islamic State-occupied Palmyra in the east. Where battle areas are inaccessible from the ground, Russian air strikes in support of Syrian army operations are being doubled.
In the last few days, giant Tupolev Tu-22M long-range bombers have been sighted on one of those missions near Deir ez-Zour in the east. There, the Islamic State is driving hard to capture the last important Syrian air base left in the region.
The Tu-22Ms take off from bases in southern Russia, carrying 24 tons of munitions, including up to six Kh-15 missiles and four Raduga Kh-15 missiles each. They can also deliver nuclear arms – a known capability intended to warn potential antagonists in Syria that Putin is determined to push through his pact with the US president, whatever it takes.
Their three common targets are ISIS, Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate the Nusra Front, and Ahrar ash-Sham al Islamiyya, the Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant.
Strengthening the Syrian army is high on Putin’s agenda.
US-Russian military teamwork was actively demonstrated in the third week of January at another targeted hotspot: Libya. American and Russian marines landed on the coast south of Tobruk, 144 km from Darnah, the stronghold of radical militias linked to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
(DEBKA Weekly’s sources found Washington in uproar this week, concerned to trace the source of debkafile’s exclusive disclosure of the landings in Libya earlier this week.
The White House, the National Security Council, the State Department and the Pentagon, deep in plans for US-Russian collaboration in Syria, were tight-lipped when challenged for answers.)

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