Iran has sent ‘thousands’ of troops to Syria to assist Russia in bolstering President Bashar Assad’s regime, according to reports that have emerged this week.
Unnamed officials speaking to Reuters said that Aleppo, the major city in Syria’s north, would be the focus of the new offensive. That is where Russian airstrikes have targeted U.S.-backed rebel groups, allowing Islamic State to move closer to the front lines against government forces. (RELATED: ISIS Has Actually Gained Ground Since Russian Airstrikes Began)
Iran has acknowledged supporting Syria’s government with military advisors and specialists. But this week’s incursion is the first non-covert entry of Iranian troops into the country.
One of the officers who spoke to Reuters said, “it is no longer hidden that thousands of Iranians are now in Syria and their role is fundamental” and that an attack is expected “soon.”
The Iranian troop movement is likely to worsen violence between the regime and rebel groups. It may provoke Turkey, which opposes Assad, into further involvement in the region. So far, Turkish action has been limited to airstrikes against Islamic State — as well as occasional attacks on its own Kurdish rivals in Syria. (RELATED: Turkey’s ISIS War Is About Much More Than ISIS)
There is also a risk of entanglement between American and Russian (or Iranian) assets in the area. U.S. warplanes have participated in airstrikes around Aleppo. And while they are reluctant to negotiate with Russian officials, the one area of concern on which the U.S. has turned to Russia is planned air maneuvers — to avoid a mid-air collision which would further escalate tension between the two countries.
Besides Iranian troops, forces from the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah are involved in the deployment.