VIA| Lebanese media reported yesterday that thousands of Iranian troops, Hezbollah fighters and other Shiite volunteers are amassing in the Latakia region in the coastal plain in Northern Syria. Among the Iranian troops are hundreds of members of the Al-Quds Brigades of the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC).
Their actions are overseen by General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Al-Quds Brigades of the IRGC. This is the same man who was heavily involved in the build-up of Shiite militias in Iraq, and he is Iran’s point man on military actions outside Iran.
Suleimani was also behind the establishing of the P4+1 coalition that will now try to re-conquer areas that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army lost over the last year. In July, Suleimani traveled to Moscow for secret talks with Putin about the situation in Syria. Almost two months later, the first reports on the Russian intervention emerged.
Syrian activists posted photo evidence of Suleiman’s latest activities on social media this week. The general can be seen talking to a group of Iranian and Hezbollah fighters and delivering a speech to the troops in a forest in northern Syria. As Western Journalism reported earlier, the Iranian troops build-up in Syria began shortly after the Russian intervention and is said to include thousands of Shiite fighters from other countries such as Afghanistan.
The Iranians are not the only ones who are flying in troops for an expected major ground offensive. Yesterday, it was confirmed that Cuba is also sending troops to man Russian tanks in Assad’s army. The Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies said that it had received information that the head of the Cuban Armed Forces, General Cintra Frias, had visited Syria recently.
A U.S. official confirmed the report and said that Cuban paramilitary and special forces units have arrived in Syria. An Arab officer also confirmed the presence of Cuban troops in Syria. He witnessed the arrival of two Russian planes with Cuban troops aboard at Damascus International Airport.
The British news site Express reported earlier that Vladimir Putin has dispatched the Spetsnaz elite unit of the Russian Army to Syria.
“The deployment of the Spetsnaz – the elite of the elite in Russia’s army who have to undergo a gruelling training programme to earn their stripes – is the latest example of the megalomaniac leader’s ruthless determination to shore up the rule of his close ally.
“It is especially significant because many of the men have a deep hatred of jihadis from their time fighting in Chechnya’s bloody civil war when Islamist fanatics battling for independence carried out frequent atrocities against Russian citizens,” Express reported.
Putin has also deployed “one of the deadliest weapons in its arsenal as part of their military action in Syria, according to reports. The mobile multiple rocket launcher – TOS-1A – features thermobaric weapons which can destroy eight city blocks in one strike, causing indiscriminate damage,” The Daily Mail in Great Britain reported.
Also on Wednesday, civilian flights to Latakia’s Bassel al-Assad International Airport were indefinitely suspended due to increasing activities by the Russain airforce that has built an air force base in the vicinity of the airport. Lebanese media reported an increase of sorties flown in Syria by Russian warplanes. Radio Sham in Syria reported that the suspension of civilian flights to Latakia will last for at least 90 days; flights will now be diverted to Damascus International Airport.
The Kuwaiti news site al-Rai reported that Russia will ramp up the airstrikes against Syrian rebel groups from an average of 60 per day to 200 or even 300 per day. The news site cited sources in the P4+1 war room who said that Russia is currently building a third air base in the region to enable the increase of sorties.
Russia began its air campaign in Syria on September 30 and carried out about 20 to 30 airstrikes per day at the time. The drastic increase of airstrikes is necessary to ensure success in the anticipated ground offensive in northern and western Syria.
Another significant development that indicates that the character of the war in Syria could change dramatically soon is the Russian decision to send its only heavy aircraft carrier to participate in the war. The Russian website Flashnord reported that the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, will sail from Murmansk to the shores of Syria.
The news site based its report on a source in the Russian Northern Fleet Command. The source said that the Kuznetsov will leave dock before the weekend and then go to the coast of Syria, where the ship will join the operation to destroy Islamic State, the source said.
The upcoming ground offensive, that Russia and Iran say will be directed against Islamic State, aims to consolidate Assad’s rule over Syria.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, was in Damascus on Wednesday to discuss the joint operation with the speaker of the Syrian parliament.
The first goal of the P4+1 ground forces will be to regain control over areas in the Homs and Hama region. After that, a major operation is expected to drive rebel groups out of the Idlib Province and Aleppo. Those are areas that are not under Islamic State control.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that the Russian forces in Syria have set up a hotline with the Israeli Air Force to avoid an inadvertent clash between Russian jets and Israeli warplanes in Syrian airspace.