Russia has warned that the war in Syria could escalate into a “proxy war” in the Middle East after the US announced plans to deploy special forces in the country to assist the opposition against the DAESH terrorist group.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the deployment should not be seen as a major change in policy, but rather as an "intensification" of the current policy, devised to support local opposition forces.
Earnest repeatedly rejected claims that the American troops will be involved in combat missions, but admitted that those sent to Syria will face significant risks.
“If we were envisioning a combat operation, we probably would be contemplating more than 50 troops on the ground,” Earnest said “This is a dangerous place on the globe and they are at risk, and there's no denying that.”
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter also confirmed the risk being faced by American troops to reporters.
"Our role fundamentally and the strategy is to enable local forces but does that put US forces in harm's way? It does, no question about it," he said.
Although the deployment is the first official deployment of US boots on the ground in Syria, US forces were previously involved in the killing of senior DAESH commander Abu Sayyaf in May, as well as a failed attempt to rescue American hostages.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised the Washington’s decision saying it had been taken "unilaterally and without any reference to the Syrian leadership."
"I am convinced that neither the United States nor Russia of course want any kind of slide into a so-called proxy war. But to me it is obvious that this situation makes the task of co-operation between the militaries even more relevant," Lavrov added.
The latest dispute comes after world powers, including the US and Russia, attended a meeting in Vienna to find a political solution for the war in Syria.
The United Nations, the European Union and another 17 countries, including the Syrian regime’s main backer Iran, were also in attendance, but the Syrian opposition's main political body, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), was not invited to the talks.
It is the first time that Iran has been officially involved in the international meetings concerning Syria.
Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad recently said that he is ready for fresh elections, but rejected demands that called on him to step down. On the eve of the meeting, Iran also signaled it might give up on its insistence that Assad remain in power.
A number of previous attempts by the Assad regime to undertake reforms on the road to democracy, after the uprising started, failed to convince the majority of Syrian people, as well as the international community, that such moves are genuine.
In February 2012, a referendum was held on constitutional reforms which would limit the rule of a president to two seven-year terms while the regime continued to bomb opposition-held parts of the country.
Although Syrian officials said that nearly 90 percent backed the reforms with a 57 percent turnout, the referendum was dismissed as a sham by a number of Western officials and was boycotted by the country’s biggest opposition groups.
The US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states have insisted that Assad must go and that he could not play a long-term role in Syria’s future, but Russia and Iran said that Assad should not be forced to give up power and that Syrians should decide their own political future.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Friday that major world powers will be holding a second meeting in two weeks.
Meanwhile on Friday, nearly 150 people were killed were killed across Syria amid Russian and Assad regime air strikes, including 80 people who died in 25 air strikes in the Aleppo governorate alone.
A further 61 people were killed and at least 100 were injured in a regime air strike on a busy marketplace in the Damascus suburb of Douma, Al Jazeera reported.
According to senior Russian Defence Ministry official Andrei Kartapolov, Russian air strikes destroyed 1,623 "terrorist targets" in Syria on Friday, including 249 communication and command posts, 35 car bomb workshops, 371 fortified positions and 786 field camps and bases.
Russia began its aerial campaign over Syria on Sept. 30, initially saying it would be targeting positions held by the DAESH terrorist group, but concerns were raised when it appeared that the majority of Russian air strikes were targeting the Syrian opposition fighting against the Assad regime.
Russia began its aerial campaign over Syria on Sept. 30, initially saying it would be targeting positions held by DAESH, but concerns were raised when it appeared that the majority of Russian air strikes were targeting the Syrian opposition fighting against the regime.
An estimated 250,000 people have been killed in the ongoing war in Syria, with most casualties occurring due to barrel bombs dropped indiscriminately on civilian areas from regime helicopters.
All together, around 12 million Syrians, amounting to half the country’s population, have been displaced from their homes.
While an estimated 6.7 million remain displaced internally, an estimated 5 million have fled to neighbouring countries including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.
Many have dared to make the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean from departure point in Libya and Turkey’s western coast in a bid to enter European Union countries.
Around half a million refugees, mostly Syrians, have entered Europe this year, causing the worst refugee crisis experienced in Europe since World War II.