Russia is reportedly operating unmanned aerial vehicles in Syria to carry out surveillance missions amid a Russian military buildup in the country.
Russia has been boosting its presence in the coastal governorates of Latakia and Tartus since earlier this month, where they began to work on expanding their only naval repair base in the eastern Mediterranean as well as reportedly building an airstrip near the Bassel al Assad military airport.
While speculation circulates the media about the nature of the deployment, Russia insists it is only honouring previous pledges made to Bashar al Assad’s embattled regime forces to help them combat ISIS militants in the country.
According to US officials speaking to CNN, Russia has already deployed 25 fighter jets, 15 helicopters, nine tanks, three surface-to-air missile systems and around 500 military personnel in Syria. However, Russian reports have put the number of Russian military personnel in Syria closer to 1,700.
An anonymous source from the Assad regime also told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that Russia had delivered at least five fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft, as well as "sophisticated military equipment” to help the regime combat ISIS.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the US is “keenly aware” of Russia’s activities in Syria, adding "We continue to believe that anything that's done in support of the Assad regime, particularly militarily, is counter-productive and risks worsening an already bad situation."
"This has the Secretary's [John Kerry] attention and it has the attention of our senior leaders, and we're absolutely concerned about the potential for confliction and the need to de-conflict," the spokesman continued.
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday that the US and Russia are preparing to open military-to-military dialogue "very shortly" in the hope of finding a solution to the worsening crisis in Syria.
Saying that US President Barack Obama believes talks with Russia are "an important step," Kerry told reporters that the Pentagon would participate in discussions with Russia, but stopped short of elaborating exactly where, when and at what level talks will be held.
Later on Friday, the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu had agreed to “further discuss mechanisms for deconfliction in Syria” in their first telephone conversation since August 2014.
The Pentagon said Carter and Shoigu also agreed that talks will focus on the campaign to counter the ISIS militant group, which took advantage of the power vacuum resulting from the four-and-a-half-year-old Syrian civil war to take over swathes of land, setting up the de facto capital of their self-proclaimed state in the city of Raqqa.
Future consultations between two defence chiefs would run parallel "with diplomatic talks that would ensure a political transition in Syria," Carter told Shoigu.
The 50-minute conversation was “constructive,” the spokesman said, adding that the discussion concentrated on areas where "perspectives overlap and areas of divergence."
Speaking to the Reuters news agency, a senior US defense official said Shoigu reassured Carter that the Russian military build-up in Syria was merely defensive and were designed to “honour commitments” made to Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime.
UN figures state that some 250,000 people have been killed during the four-and-a-half-year-old Syrian civil war and an estimated 7.6 million people have been internally displaced, while another 5.4 million people have fled the country into neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, as well as Europe.