Despite supposed withdrawal, Russia building up new base in Syria, Pentagon says

The Palmyra citadel is seen as a Russian vehicle blocks a road leading to the ancient city in Syria on April 14. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

(SOURCE)   Despite pledging to withdraw the majority of its forces from Syria in March, the Russian military remains firmly entrenched throughout the country and is even continuing to expand in some areas, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State, told reporters Tuesday that Russian capabilities are “almost identical” to what they were before President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that his country’s forces would soon be returning home.

“They continue to have air power there, they continue to have ground forces, they continue to have artillery, said Warren, speaking from Baghdad in a teleconference with reporters. “They still have Spetsnaz providing advice and assistance to the Syrian regime.” Spetsnaz are Russian Special Operations forces.

He added that the Pentagon was also monitoring Russia’s build-up of a forward operating base near the ancient city of Palmyra. The outpost was established in the weeks after Syrian government and Iranian troops, backed by Russian airstrikes and Special Operations forces, routed the Islamic State from Palmyra in March. According to Russian officials, the base was built to support demining operations around the city.

Recent footage of the base, posted online earlier this month by Syria’s al-Masdar news, shows the hallmarks of a small-scale operation, congruent with demining operations. But the footage also includes images of what appears to be a Russian Pantsir S-1, a medium range surface-to-air missile system.

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