Iran has begun to deploy large numbers of troops into the Syrian civil war under the protection of Russian air power. Upwards of 1,500 Iranian fighters are now in-country with more on the way. This complements Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, which are being reinforced as well. The troops are fighting U.S.-backed forces that are rebelling against the Syrian regime. In addition, U.S. officials have said off the record that Russia is actively targeting U.S.-backed forces on the ground with their air campaign.
According to a source for the Associated Press, this is the first confirmation of Iranian fighters actually joining the Syrian conflict as combatants as opposed to acting in its historical advisory role for Syrian government. The source added the Iranian fighters were arriving at Damascus airport and transported to a military base in the coastal town of Latakia from where they were deploying on the ground — mainly in the northern provinces of Idlib and Aleppo province.
In another development, Fox News quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying Russia is actively targeting U.S.-backed forces on the ground with airstrikes and has killed up to 150 U.S.-trained rebels. “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is deliberately targeting our forces,” said the official, who added he was disappointed with the U.S. response. “Our guys are fighting for their lives.”
Russia has claimed they are targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but many Western militaries say that Russia is mainly targeting anti-Assad forces. Russia and the United States agreed recently to hold further talks on deconflicting air operations.
American military officers have stated the two countries are targeting different forces on the ground.
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