As Russian attacks continue into their second day, once again targeting rebels directly threatening Assad rather than focusing on ISIS exclusively, Iran appears to be dispatching ground troops for direct combat roles. Reuters reports:
Two Lebanese sources told Reuters hundreds of Iranian troops had reached Syria in the past 10 days with weapons to mount a major ground offensive. They would also be backed by Assad’s Lebanese Hezbollah allies and by Shi’ite militia fighters from Iraq, while the Russia would provide air support.
“The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria: soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisers … we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more,” one of the sources said.
So far, direct Iranian military support for Assad has come mostly in the form of military advisers. Iran has also mobilized Shi’ite militia fighters, including Iraqis and some Afghans, to fight alongside Syrian government forces.
If these reports prove to be true, and a coordinated push by Syrian and Iranian ground forces backed by Russian air power soon begins, we will know with even more certainty what Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani discussed in July (when Soleimani flew to meet with Putin in Moscow in direct violation of a UN travel ban).