Four Russian fighter jets have arrived in Syria according to US defense officials. The are reportedly stationed at an an airfield near Latakia.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one US official told Reuters on Friday that there were four Russian jets at the airfield, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Later a second official also talked to Reuters and confirmed the report, but declined to give an exact figure.
The news came as Russia’s Minster of Defense Sergey Shoigu and his US counterpart Ashton Carter talked by telephone on Friday to discuss the situation in the Middle East and the Syrian crisis.
The WSJ reports:
Defense officials said at least four tactical fighter jets had arrived at the rapidly expanding airfield on the Syrian coast south of Latakia. Over the past two weeks, defense officials said, Russia has dramatically stepped up development of the airfield by sending in housing for up to 2,000 people, attack helicopters, choppers to transport troops around the country, and artillery.
The arrival of the jet fighters is the most concerning development for the U.S., which regularly flies surveillance flights and airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Syria.
Defense officials said they weren’t certain how Russia planned to use the jets, but noted that the Soviet planes are designed for air-to-air combat.
The arrival of the jets was first detected Friday, hours before Mr. Carter spoke to Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu. The call marks the first time the two men have spoken this year.