MESOP SYRIA REPORTS: RUSSIAN MILITARY MOVES INTO AIRBASE IN EASTERN SYRIA — INVITED BY PYD/PKK – COMPETITION OR CO-OPERATION WITH US?
The New York Times supports claims that Russia is moving into an airbase in northeastern Syria, close to another base which has been taken over by the US for operations.A fighter said the Russian military, moving into the base near the city of Qamishli, is recruiting men from Deir ez-Zor Province, including from groups with whom the US worked in its failed “train-and-equip” program for Syria’s rebels. The fighter indicated that the contacts were with elements of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, including in a meeting in the town of Tal Abyad near the Turkish border: “We were really surprised to meet a Russian delegation in our headquarters.”
He said, that as his group had previously been supported by Ahmed al-Jarba — a former head of the Syrian National Council, close to Saudi Arabia — the meeting raised thoughts that the Saudis and Russia had a secret understanding.
The account backs reports from the opposition Local Coordination Committees Russian military personnel have been deployed at the Qamishli airport, and that Russian officials met with both regime officials and Kurdish militia leaders to discuss deployment in the city.
The US has been shifting its support from other rebel factions to the SDF, established in October 2015 and advancing against the Islamic State in northern Syria. Recently it established a new base in Hasakah Province for special forces and supplies to the effort.
Two Pentagon officials confirmed the Russian deployment, but they maintained that Moscow is not focused on directly involvement with fighters in the same locations as the Americans.
“I’m not sure I’d characterize it as providing support to the same people as we are,” General Joseph F. Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.
The fighter quoted by the New York Times also said the Russians had offered his tribe, the Sheitat, weapons and assistance to reclaim their home area in Deir ez=Zor from ISIS, who executed hundreds of members of the tribe last year.The plan was suspended when the Russians asked for 300 fighters and only 200 could be mustered. The fighter suggested that the effort would have had little impact as the Islamic State tries to take all of Deir ez-Zor city from the Assad regime. Regime supporters are also asserting from a “field source” that about 50 Russian Marines have deployed at the regime’s Kweiris airbase, east of Aleppo city.
A long-standing ISIS siege on the base was relieved in October by the Syrian military, supported by intense Russian bombing.