The first step in the deployment of these troops took place last October when the U.S Army decided to send a team of soldiers to the village of Rmelan al-Basha in the Kurdish held, oil-rich province of al-Hassakeh in north-east Syria.
Close to this Kurdish village there is an old 700 meter airstrip used by small aircraft. According to the BBC, the U.S. Army has expanded the length of this to 1,310 meters, allowing the landing of transport aircraft such as C-130J.
Last October the U.S dropped 45 tons of ammunition to the Kurdish rebels in this area who are fighting against ISIS. Al-Hassakeh province is part of the Kurdish canton of Jazira, one of four entities that make up the de facto autonomous Kurdish region of Rojava in northern Syria.
A week ago Russia sent 200 soldiers and engineers to the border city of Qamishli in the al-Hassakeh province. Damascus still controls a small part of this border city and the area south of the city including Qamishli international airport. The rest of the province is controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (YPG) and ISIS.
According to defence analysts, Russia intends to upgrade and make use of the airport, which has a 3,615 meter long runway for its fighter and bomber aircraft.
The air base is located in a strategic position a few miles from the borders of Turkey and close to the Iraqi borders and the territory that ISIS controls in Syria and Iraq.
Currently the Russian Air Force detachment in Syria is using the international airport of Latakia and the air base at Shaayrat, south of the city of Homs.
The new air base will allow the Russian Air Force to strike ISIS targets in eastern Syria as soon as these are located by reconnaissance satellites and UAVs. The oil fields and the mobile refineries of ISIS in Deir El-Zor province seem to be the primary targets of the Russian Su-25SM close air support aircraft and the Mi-24P attack helicopters.
The new airbase at Qamishli will also allow the Russian Air Force to contribute to the fight against Iraq in case Baghdad asks for Russian assistance.
Furthermore Russia obtains a strategic asset in the region and at any time can provide adequate support or military equipment to the Kurdish forces fighting ISIS.
Finally Russia is sending a message to Turkey that it is going to increase its military presence in Syria, developing a strong relationship with the Kurdish population there.
The presence of Russian troops so close to the Turkish borders in an area mostly controlled by the Kurds of Syria provoked a reaction from the President of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, “We have said this from the beginning; we won’t tolerate such formations [in northern Syria] along the area stretching from the Iraqi border up to the Mediterranean.”
Prior to the deployment of Russian soldiers and engineers in Qamishli, Turkish security sources said that a Russian military delegation, headed by a General and including members of the Russian military intelligence service GRU had flown into Qamishli on January 16 to inspect the airport.
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