NPR has learned that four Russian attack aircraft have landed in Syria as part of an effort by Moscow to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad against Islamic State militants.
Pentagon Correspondent Tom Bowman says the Sukhoi jets, known by the NATO designation “Flanker” have been deployed at a forward operating base at Latakia, on the Mediterranean coast, along with four attack helicopters and four transport planes. Moscow plans to dispatch more aircraft, Tom says.
Meanwhile, during a nearly hour-long call, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, agreed to make sure the respective militaries “steer clear of each other as they each carry out operations against ISIS,” Tom says.
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Carter and Shoigu “had a constructive talk about the need to ‘de-conflict’ the Russian buildup with the anti-Islamic State effort,” according to The Associated Press.
The AP says: “Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov issued a statement noting that ‘the course of the conversation has shown that the sides’ opinions on the majority of issues under consideration are close or coincide. The ministers noted the restoration of contacts between the countries’ defense ministries and agreed to continue consultations.”
As Reuters notes: “Heavy Russian equipment such as tanks and helicopters, as well as naval infantry forces, have recently been moved to Latakia, an Assad stronghold, U.S. officials say.”
Carter has told Shoigu that further discussions would be one facet of an ongoing discussion that will also include “diplomatic talks that would ensure a political transition in Syria,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“He noted that defeating (Islamic State militants) and ensuring a political transition are objectives that need to be pursued at the same time,” the statement said.
Speaking in London, Secretary of State John Kerry said President Obama believes military-to-military discussions with Russia are “an important next step” in defeating the Islamic State and defusing the Syrian crisis, which Kerry said “has got to be solved.”