- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Pentagon is evaluating Russia’s involvement in the renewed aerial campaign against anti-government forces in the Syrian city of Aleppo, dismissing Moscow’s naval buildup in the Mediterranean Sea as nothing more than a show of force to the U.S. and international community.

But that buildup is seen by a number of regional and military experts as Moscow’s final effort to crush forces in Aleppo fighting to overthrow Syrian president and Russian ally Bashar al-Assad.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Tuesday that department officials are still sifting through the details regarding the new wave of bombardments against the the besieged Syrian city.

“It remains to be seen who is doing what [in Aleppo],” Capt. Davis said, adding that Mr. Assad’s forces, not Russian, could be behind the new round of attacks against the rebel-held city.

Regardless of which faction is carrying out the new round of assaults on Aleppo, “we do know it is not helpful” in facilitating a peaceful end to the five-year Syrian civil war.

“Russia’s direct support to the Assad regime … has killed hundreds of civilians and injured many more,” Capt. Davis said. “It undermines the efforts to end the conflict with a diplomatic solution.”

Anti-Assad activists reported attacks against rebel positions from Russian warplanes and ship-based cruise missiles Tuesday, breaking a three-week lull in attacks against the city, The Associated Press reported.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Tuesday that Russian jets based off the Kuznetsov strike group anchored off the Syrian coastline were participating in the ongoing assault against the city.

The strike group, which consists of the Admiral Kuznetsov, three Udaloy-class destroyers, a Kirov-class guided missile cruiser, two Akula-class nuclear submarines, a Kilo-class attack sub along with a number of refueling and support ships, began steaming toward the Syrian coast in late October.

During Tuesday’s briefing in Moscow, Mr. Shoigu claimed the attacks were targeting Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and strikes were also carried out near the Syrian cities of Idlib and Homs.

While U.S. officials have confirmed insurgents presence around Idlib, there remains no evidence of Islamic State or al Qaeda movement around either Homs or Aleppo.

With the help of Russian air and naval power, government troops have been able to cut off rebel forces cornered in eastern Aleppo from receiving support from their counterparts west of the city.

Moscow’s decision to deploy the the strike group into the Mediterranean earlier this month, coupled with Tuesday’s renewed, fueled fears in Washington and within the international community that Russia was preparing to deliver a final blow to Syrian rebels in Aleppo.

But Capt. Davis dismissed such claims, noting that Russia already has in place all the military manpower and hardware needed to bring the siege of Aleppo, and the ongoing civil war, to an end with one decisive assault.

“From a pure military perspective, Russia already has significant military capabilities inside Syria,” he said. “There is nothing, kinetically, they can achieve or want to achieve that they cannot already do with the forces that are already there.

“Anything that they bring in, whether it’s aircraft carriers or cruise missiles launching from ships … those are done for show,” Capt. Davis added.

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