Foreign militaries widen footprint in Middle East

The July 26 agreement allows Moscow to have a presence in Syria until the year 2066.

Long-term presence. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (C) is seen visiting Russia’s Hmeimim Airbase in Syria, last year. (Russian Defence Ministry Press Service)

2017/08/06 Issue: 118 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Mamoon Alabbasi

London- Russia and the United States are expanding their foothold in the Mid­dle East by increasing the number of their military bases and upgrading existing facili­ties in the region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ratified a deal with the Syrian government that allows Russia to keep its Hmeimim Airbase in Syria’s Latakia province for 49 years, with the option of extending the arrange­ment for another 25 years.

The agreement is part of Russian military measures to support Syr­ian President Bashar Assad against rebels opposing his rule and it al­lows Moscow to have a presence in Syria until the year 2066 — long after 51-year-old Assad’s tenure is expected to have ended.

Although Russia has been a long-time ally of the Syrian regime, its military presence has become more visible in recent weeks. Russia marked its annual Navy Day with military parades July 30 that, for the first time, extended to Syria. Russia displayed its naval hardware at its base in Syria’s coastal city of Tartus and its submarines in Syrian waters.

In the central Syrian city of Homs, Russian military police set up checkpoints to monitor a ceasefire between the Syrian regime and op­position forces.

Russian fatalities have report­edly increased in the past months. Reuters estimated that at least 40 Russian servicemen and private contractors have been killed while fighting in Syria in 2017.

“That tally over seven months ex­ceeds the 36 Russian armed person­nel and contractors estimated by Reuters to have been killed in Syria over the previous 15 months, indi­cating a significant rise in the rate of battlefield losses as the country’s involvement deepens,” said a Reu­ters report.

The US government is asking Congress for permission to build new, albeit temporary, facilities in Iraq and Syria to be used in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).

“As the campaign to defeat ISIS transitions beyond the liberation of Mosul and Raqqa, operational com­manders will need the requested authority to build temporary inter­mediate staging facilities, ammu­nition supply points and tactical assembly areas that have adequate force protection,” read a policy statement released by the White House.

“These facilities, supply points, and assembly areas will enable the pursuit of ISIS into the Euphrates River Valley and help improve the security of Iraq’s borders.”

There are more than 5,000 US troops in Iraq and the United States and the Iraqi government are dis­cussing the possibility of a long-term US military presence.

Regional power Iran stated last November that Tehran is consider­ing setting up naval bases in Syria and Yemen and recent reports sug­gested that Assad has given the Ira­nians permission to install them. US officials said that Iran has a drone base in Syria.

Mamoon Alabbasi is Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor of The Arab Weekly. You can follow him on Twitter @MamoonAlabbasi

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