Russian warplanes fly in the sky over the Mediterranean coastal city of Latakia, Syria, in this January 28, 2016. PUTIN REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
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Last July, Syrian President Bashar Assad seemed to be losing his battle against rebel forces.Russia, Iran and Syria struck their agreement to deploy military forces in June, several weeks before Assad's July 26 speech, according to a senior official in the Middle East who was familiar with the details.In all, according to U.S. officials, Russia by Sept. 21 had 28 fixed-wing aircraft, 16 helicopters, advanced T-90 tanks and other armored vehicles, artillery, anti-aircraft batteries and hundreds of marines at its base near Latakia.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sept. 22 that Russian aircraft were in Syria to defend the Russians' base – "force protection" in the view of U.S. military experts.One former U.S. official, who was in government at the time, told Reuters that some U.S. officials had begun voicing concern that Russia would intervene militarily in Syria two weeks before the bombing began.By December, U.S. officials had concluded that Russia had achieved its main goal of stabilizing Assad's government and could maintain its operations in Syria for years.
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