Russian surveillance drones are flying missions over Syria as a buildup of aircraft was observed at the Latakia, Syria, air base, US officials said.
The number of Russian fighter planes at the base grew from four to 28 over the weekend. The increase, with the initiation of drone flights, indicates Russia is preparing to aid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with air cover and other help against the Islamic State, which is being fought in part by a coalition of US-led forces.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Sergei Shoigu, his Russian counterpart, spoke Friday about the escalation of Russian involvement. Russia is openly allied with the Syrian government.
The United States has insisted Assad leave office if the four-year civil war, which has provoked a massive civilian and humanitarian crisis, is to end.
"We are keenly aware of what is happening there," Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said Monday. "We continue to believe that anything that's done in support of the Assad regime, particularly militarily, is counter-productive and risks worsening an already bad situation."
Russian forces have not yet flown any combat missions, although the Pentagon is concerned about potential conflicts with Russian aircraft in Syrian airspace. US officials have said they would welcome Russian air attacks against the Islamic State, but no coordination of airstrikes is planned. The United States concern is that Russian planes could interfere with coalition pilots flying daily missions over Syria.
By Ed Adamczyk
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