Cuba denies it sent troops to Syria

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Smoke rises after what activists said was shelling by the forces of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Old Aleppo’s Kadi Askar area, Syria.
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Thomson Reuters

The Cuban government on Saturday denied what it called an “irresponsible and unfounded” report that it had sent troops to Syria in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Gerardo Penalver

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Cuba’s director general of diplomatic affairs, Gerardo Penalver Portal.
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Screen grab

Foreign ministry official Gerardo Penalver Portal “categorically denies and refutes the irresponsible and unfounded information regarding the supposed presence of Cuban troops in the Syrian Arab Republic,” a government statement said.

The statement comes after Cuban military operatives were reportedly spotted in Syria, training with Russians.

According to Fox News:

On Wednesday, a US official confirmed to Fox News that Cuban paramilitary and special forces units are on the ground in Syria, citing evidence from intelligence reports.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Cuban troops may have been training in Russia and may have arrived in Syria on Russian planes.

The Fox News report also noted that the official cited in the story “could not confirm whether Cuba’s top general is in Syria, or if Cuban forces are manning Russian tanks provided to Assad by Russia.”

Amid these reports, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote a letteron Friday to President Obama saying, “Press reports now indicate that hundreds of Cuban military personnel are on the ground in Syria, with the purpose of supporting Russia and Iran in bolstering the Assad regime.”

Grassley continued, “What actions do you plan to take with regard to Cuba’s military involvement in Syria?”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Thursday that the US government had seen no evidence to indicate the reports were true.

Moscow’s entry into the war in Syria, along with the apparent surge of Iranian military support, have escalated a war that’s already killed over 300,000 peopleanddisplaced another 11.7 million.

What’s more, Russia’s military operation in Syria isn’t likely to be short, The New York Times reports.

Along with already-positioned military hardware that includes tanks, aircraft, and ships off of Syria’s coast, Moscow has also begun to move in supplies and resources that are clearly intended for a lengthy stay, rather than a quick intervention.

Russian Airstrikes in Syria: September 30 - October 16, 2015 aleppo hama idlib homs latakia russia

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ISW

“Russia is not only bringing some of its most advanced hardware to the fight, it has also deployed large field kitchens and even dancers and singers to entertain the troops – all signs that Moscow is settling in for the long haul,” The Times reports, citing American analysts.

This level of support indicates that Russia may be planning to support a forward-deployed force for some time.

Jeremy Bender contributed to this report.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Paul Simao)