DoD: Russian Military Activity in Syria a 'Military Build-up'

Image: Russian troops during shift change outside Privolnoye military base in Crimea, Ukraine.
Russian troops during shift change outside Privolnoye military base in Crimea, Ukraine.Ed Flanagan / NBC News

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By Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube

U.S. defense officials are now calling the Russian military activity in Syria a military build-up and are comparing it to Russian activity last year in Crimea.

Two defense officials say that the Russians have brought in dozens of armored vehicles and ground support vehicles, and that they have now also brought in artillery. While those assets all point to ground combat, the officials still maintain that the U.S. does not know what Russia is planning in Syria.

Related: Analysis: Why Is Russia So Interested in Syria?

One defense official says that the Russians continue to improve and extend a runway near Latakia, and that they are constructing hangars and buildings for aircraft and equipment there. They have also set up a portable air traffic control tower and the official said it appears they are preparing for the arrival of a squadron of fighter aircraft.

The Russian military has also brought in more than 200 compartmentalized housing units, which one defense official said could house as many as 1,200 people.

So far the U.S. does not have a strong sense of how many Russian military are operating in Syria right now, with some estimates saying fewer than 100 are there, and about 50 of those are naval infantry forces there for security and force protection.

Related: Russian Ships Headed to Syria, U.S. Officials Say

But one defense official said the Russians could have military there in plain clothes and the U.S. just doesn’t know it.

The Russians have sent at least two military ships to the Syrian port of Tartous, which the U.S. believes were carrying equipment, supplies, and vehicles.

As of now, there have not been any talks between the U.S. and Russian militaries bout the ongoing situation.