In a day of diplomatic snafus by the Pentagon, which first admitted it had spec ops forces in Syria (remember when it was just "advisors" and the Obama administration was blaming Russia for escalating the conflict by daring to join the fight against ISIS and sending its own troops in Damascus) then promptly retracted, using the old "there was no Freudian slip" explanation, the US promptly needed another diversion to cast the blame back in Putin's court.
Which brings us to our post from Monday in which "anonymous" US officials told Reuters that "Russia has positioned about a half dozen tanks at a Syrian airfield where it has been steadily building up defenses" with Reuters adding that "one of the U.S. officials said seven Russian T-90 tanks were seen at the airfield near Latakia, a stronghold of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The two U.S. officials said Russia had also positioned artillery there" adding that "the two U.S. officials said Russia had also positioned artillery, which they said appeared."
Our request was simple: "We can only hope the "anonymous" US officials will soon provide photographic evidence of their claims."
Today, we got this "evidence" when Foreign Policy magazine released a satellite image which, according to the author Jeffrey Lewis "Leaves No Doubt That Russia Is Throwing Troops and Aircraft Into Syria."
On Sept. 4, the New York Times published an article suggesting that Russia had shipped prefabricated housing and a transportable air traffic control station to an airfield near Latakia. It was a great scoop, but I was pretty baffled that the New York Times didn’t bother to purchase a satellite image of the facility. Had they done so, they would have realized that they buried the lede.
The satellite image shows far more than prefabricated housing and an air traffic control station. It shows extensive construction of what appears to be a military canton at Bassel al-Assad International Airport (named for Bashar’s elder brother, who died in a car accident in 1994). This canton appears designed to support Russian combat air operations from the base and may serve as a logistical hub for Russian combat forces.
The scale of the construction goes even further. A large area of ground has been cleared in many different parts of the air base. There are pallets and crates everywhere. Trucks are visible driving into the site. The image drives home the implication of all those flights and shipments heading to Syria: Russia is substantially expanding its involvement.
Is there "no doubt" as the author claims this is happening? We leave it to readers to decide. One thing that is certain is that earlier today it was the US which first admitted it had spec ops in Syria in what could be the most inconvenient Freudian slip in recent "proxy war" history, and then was promptly forced to retract it.
As for Russian forces "undoubtedly" throwing troops into Syria, well - decide for yourself. Here is FP's before and after satellite image "evidence." It's important because images such as these are the modern equivalent of Colin Powell's vial of WMDs presented to the United Nations in 2003 to justify the war with Iraq.