Sep 18, 2015
Russia building forward air base in Syria
Satellite imagery suggests the activity includes reinforcing aircraft runways, building helicopter pads, installing mobile housing units, and constructing several new buildings including an air traffic control tower, according to Stratfor, a private intelligence company.
On Monday, Russia was positioning tanks and artillery along the perimeter of the air base.
The Russian activities have "been progressing on a daily basis," Davis said.
The buildup is one of Moscow's most aggressive military provocations in years, with the apparent goal of boosting the military defenses of its ally, embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces have suffered a series of battlefield losses to Islamic State extremists and other rebel groups.
But the move poses risks as U.S. aircraft fly dozens of daily sorties over Syria and launch airstrikes against Islamic State targets on the ground.
Latakia is about 100 miles from Islamic State-held territory near Aleppo.
Latakia is a political stronghold for Assad and his Shia Alawite sect. It is widely believed that Assad would return to the Latakia area if the government's capital in Damascus fell to rebels or Islamic extremists.
Latakia is about 60 miles north of Tartus, a port city where the Russians maintain a small naval base.
Russia reportedly also has used Iraqi airspace to fly large transport aircraft into Syria. U.S. officials have urged allies in the region to deny Russia the use of their airspace. But despite having about 3,500 U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, the U.S. has no direct control over Iraqi airspace.
In late August, Alligator-class and Ropucha-class Russian landing ships were sighted moving south through Turkey's Bosphorous Strait and heading toward the Syrian coast. Photographs appeared to show armored ground vehicles on board the vessels.