"Clearly, the presence of aircraft with air-to-air combat capacity ... and surface-to-air missiles raise serious questions," Kerry said, responding to a question after meeting with British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond. The Russians have deployed at least one such system, according to an American official, who was not authorized to discuss military matters and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Russia says its recent military buildup in Syria is designed to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) armed group. While ISIL lacks an air force, the Russian aircraft are capable of striking ground targets and providing close air support for ground forces, a U.S. intelligence official said. The official was not authorized to discuss military matters and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Russia's military moves in Syria are its first major expeditionary force deployment outside the former Soviet Union since the war in Afghanistan, the official said.
Kerry said the military-to-military talks with the Russians are designed to make sure there are no incidents between Russian and American forces. The discussions also amount to a tacit acceptance of the Russian buildup, after weeks of warnings from Washington against any Russian escalation in Syria.
In another apparent concession, Kerry stated explicitly that the U.S. could accept a resolution to the Syrian war that allowed President Bashar Assad to remain in place for a time before departing, as the U.S. has long wanted.
"We're not being doctrinaire about the specific date or time — we're open," Kerry said, adding that Assad doesn't have to leave "on day one, or month one, or whatever."
He later added that the U.S. considered Assad a magnet for the foreign fighters who are filling ISIL’s ranks.
"So there's a lack of logic," Kerry said, for the Russians to say "they are bringing in more equipment to shore up Assad at the same time they say they are going after" the armed groups.
The Associated Press