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US ‘concerns’ over Russian missile system

Washington: Russia’s decision to deploy its most hi-tech air defense system to its base in Syria is raising “significant concerns” for the US military, a US official has said.

Moscow says it is sending S-400 anti-aircraft missiles to Latakia in northwestern Syria, in a move that comes after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in the increasingly crowded air space along the border on Tuesday.

The S-400 missiles have a range of about 400 kilometers — meaning they could reach deep into Turkey or pose a potential threat to US-led coalition planes — adding yet another dangerous element to an already volatile mix of competing military interests in Syria.

“It’s a capable weapons system that poses a significant threat to anyone,” a US official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP yesterday. “There are significant concerns related to air operations in Syria.”

The United States has since August 2014 led a coalition that has flown more than 8,000 bombing runs against Islamic State group targets in Syria and Iraq.

Russia, too, is dropping bombs in Syria but these are mainly in different parts of the country from where US and coalition planes are flying. The West says Russia is propping up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and not focusing on IS jihadists.

Though Russia and the US-led coalition have agreed on a set of guidelines aimed at ensuring pilots stay out of each other’s way, the prospect of batteries of Russian anti-aircraft missiles arriving in Syria is nonetheless raising eyebrows in the Pentagon.

But another US official, also speaking anonymously, said the S-400s “shouldn’t” affect coalition flights.

“We are not going to interfere with (the Russians’) operations and they are not going to interfere with ours. There’s no reason for us to be targeting each other,” the official said.

He also noted that Russia in the past week has delivered more than 30 T-90 and T-72 tanks to Latakia.

It was not clear if these were for use by the Russian military or will be provided to forces loyal to Assad.

Russia resumed its bombing campaign yesterday and continued to operate close to the Turkish border.

In northern Syria’s Aleppo province, apparent Russian strikes hit the town of Azaz and the border area around the Bab al-Salama crossing, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

The monitor and local Syrian activist Maamun al-Khatieb reported three people killed in the strikes, which also set fire to several trucks parked in a lot not far from the crossing.