A pilot of the Russian Airspace Forces gets aboard a Su-24 multifunctional strike bomber at the Hmeimim airbase in the Latakia Governorate of Syria.Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti
More than half of the Russian troops in Syria have been withdrawn. According to military analysts, the number of Russian aerospace forces in the region will be greatly reduced, but the operation against terrorists of Islamic State and the Al-Nustra Front will continue.
"The number of sorties has dropped sharply, they are carried out mostly at night," Viktor Murakhovsky, editor-in-chief of the Arsenal of the Fatherland magazine and a member of the Expert Council of the Russian Military-Industrial Commission, told RIR. "But the truce in Syria does not apply to groups which are recognized by Russia and the U.S.-led international coalition forces as terrorist. The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation continue to carry out surgical strikes on the positions of ISIS militants," he said.
The first group of Russian fighters and bombers flew from Syria to their places of permanent deployment on the morning of Tuesday, March 15, a statement on the website of the Russian Defence Ministry said.
The flights took off in groups led by military transport aircraft (Tu-154 or Il-76), which transported engineers and technicians, as well as material and technical equipment. Pilots flew to the Russian borders in such groups, and then will move on to the airfields where they will be deployed for more permanent placements.
"Of the 60 fighters and bombers, more than half will be withdrawn, maybe two thirds," Murakhovsky said.
"At the same time, the number of our troops in Syria will be reduced only slightly; it is necessary to ensure the safety of the permanent Russian military bases at the Khmeimim air field and the port of Tartous."
According to Murakhovsky, helicopter units will remain in their entirety to carry out search and rescue missions and tactical transportation in Syria. Russia also leaves its military advisers to help the Syrian leadership in the fight against Islamic State militants.
"Russia leaves its air defence systems in Syria in their entirety; S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems as well as Buk-M3, Tor-M2 and Pantsyr S-1 air defense missile systems. Also, Russian Navy warships will continue to operate in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, to be rotated in the normal mode," Viktor Litovkin, a retired colonel and TASS military analyst, told RIR.
According to him, the Navy is tasked not only with control and surveillance of ISIS militants, but also with monitoring NATO warships, which come to the Black Sea with SM-3 and Tomahawk cruise missiles on board.
"Moscow initiated the peace process and follows the path of the United States in Afghanistan by leaving its strongholds and their means of defence," Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, told RIR.
"The pullout of the 'combat' part of the troops is also a signal to President Assad that Russia will not always solve Syrian problems in the international arena and that the current regime is now quite capable of independent political action."
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to begin the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria from March 15. He noted that the Russian armed forces before moving out should organize effective protection of the permanent Russian military bases at the port of Tartous and the Khmeimim airbase, which will continue to function as usual. The ceasefire proposed by Russia and the United States has been in effect in Syria since February 27. The truce does not cover terrorists of the radical organization Islamic State. The military operations of Russian aerospace forces against militants of the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria began on September 30, 2015. As Shoigu said during a meeting with President Putin, Russian forces liberated more than 400 settlements and flew over 9,000 sorties, destroying more than 2,000 ISIS members and supporters. Shoigu said Russian aerospace forces also destroyed more than 200 Islamic State oil production facilities and were able to completely cut off the terrorists’ supplies.
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