WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia is in the midst of a steady military buildup at a Syrian airport, indicating Moscow intends to create an air operations base there, although no fighter jets or helicopters have arrived yet, the Pentagon said Monday.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said the U.S. is closely monitoring the buildup, but he declined to reveal specifics about the Russian military personnel and equipment being flown to the base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia.
"We have seen indications in recent days that Russia has moved people and things into the area around Latakia and the air base there that suggests that it intends to establish some sort of a forward air operating base," Davis said.
He declined to provide an estimate of the number of Russian troops there or say what kinds of military equipment have arrived. He said the U.S. has concerns about ensuring that any Russian military air operations not come into conflict with U.S. and coalition airstrikes that are being conducted in other parts of Syria against Islamic State targets.
"We have said before that we would welcome Russian contributions to the overall global effort against (the Islamic State group), but that things that continue to support the Assad regime — particularly military things — are unhelpful and risk adding greater instability to an already unstable situation," Davis said.
In an interview with Russian state television aired Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said it was "absurd" for the West to exclude the Syrian armed forces from the fight against the Islamic State group.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that Russia has legitimate interests and significant investments in Syria.
"That's why we ... have urged Russia to reconsider how they can constructively coordinate their efforts" with the international coalition that is combatting the Islamic State, Earnest said, suggesting that President Barack Obama may discuss the issue directly with President Vladimir Putin.
"With all their differences, the president does feel like they have the kind of relationship that allows them to be pretty blunt with each other," Earnest said.
Associated Press writer Stacy Anderson contributed to this report.