MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Saturday marks the second anniversary of the anti-terror operation carried out by the Russian Armed Forces in Syria at request of Damascus.
The Syrian conflict that had flared up in March 2011 continues to this day. Several hundred illegal paramilitary units are fighting against government forces and among themselves. The Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat Fatah al Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front) terrorist groups, both banned in a number of countries, including in Russia, are among the most serious enemies of the Syrian government forces. The so-called moderate Syrian opposition is yet another party to the conflict. During the beginning of the conflict, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was one of the moderate opposition’s most combat effective parts. The Kurds, who are also one of the most combat-ready warring parties, have initially sided with the FSA but later decided to carry out their own operations.
On September 30, 2015, then-Chief of Staff of the Russian Presidential Executive Office Sergei Ivanov said that Syrian President Bashar Assad had called on Moscow to provide military assistance. Russian President Vladimir Putin requested the Federation Council’s consent for deploying Russian military contingent abroad. The lawmakers had unanimously supported the president’s request.
That same day, acting in accordance with Putin’s decision aircraft of Russia’s Aerospace Forces launched high-precision strikes against IS ground targets in Syria. In an effort to coordinate their anti-terror activities, Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria established an information center in Baghdad. Its experts started gathering, processing, summarizing and analyzing data on the regional situation. They also moved to quickly provide this data to the general staffs of the countries participating in the center’s activities.
A battle group of Russia’s Aerospace Forces featuring over 50 planes and helicopters began to carry out combat missions. This group consisted of Su-24M and Su-34 fighter-bombers, Tu-22M3 bombers, Su-25SM strike aircraft, Su-30SM and Su-35S fighters, Mi-24 and Mi-8AMTSH helicopters. The Russian side also began to use reconnaissance satellites and drones in the anti-terror struggle.
Russian servicemen involved in the aerial operation are stationed at the Hmeimim air base near Latakia. The air base receives all its logistic supplies from Russia. A reinforced Marine tactical battalion group is involved in guarding and defending the base. The Russian Navy’s Mediterranean task force defends the base against possible air strikes and also ensures the delivery of required supplies.
During the first month of the Syrian operation, the Russian aircraft conducted 1,391 combat missions and destroyed 249 command and communications centers, 51 terrorist training camps, 35 plants and workshops, 131 ammunition and fuel depots, 371 strongpoints and fortified areas, 786 field camps and bases. On October 7, 2015, Russian warships joined the anti-terror operation for the first time and launched 26 Kalibr cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea. The missiles destroyed 11 targets of the terrorists.
On November 17, Russia used its strategic bombers for the first time during the aerial operation. Tu-160, Tu-95 and Tu-22M3 bombers carried out a large-scale strike against IS positions in the Middle Eastern state. This day will go down in history because Russia’s Tu-160 and Tu-95 bombers have never been used in combat before. They received their baptism of fire in the Syrian skies.
On November 20, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Aerospace Force’s group had been increased up to 69 aircraft. At that moment, Russia’s naval group participating in the anti-terror operation comprised of 10 warships, including six ones in the Mediterranean Sea.
On November 24, a Turkish F-16 aircraft downed a Russian Su-24 over the Syrian territory. After that incident, Putin ordered to equip the Russian air base in Syria with S-400 air defense systems.
On December 8, Russia’s submerged Kilo-class Rostov-on-Don submarine launched its Kalibr cruise missiles from the Mediterranean Sea for the first time and hit all designated targets.
Initially, Russian warplanes hit enemy command centers, headquarters, communications facilities, weapons, ammunition and petroleum, fuel depots, tiny plants manufacturing improvised explosive devices and car bombs for IS militants.
Eventually, the Russian side focused on the efforts to deprive radical Islamists of their sources of revenue. They hit IS-controlled oil rigs, refineries and oil transportation facilities. Russian aircraft also started flying search-and-destroy missions against fuel trucks.
Due to Russian airstrikes, the militants started retreating and lost most of their frontline weapons and equipment. According to reconnaissance and intelligence reports, terrorists changed their tactics, became more cautious and started resorting to camouflage more often.
The Russian Aerospace Forces’ operation forced the opposition to enter into peace talks with Damascus in order to settle the crisis by political means.
The intra-Syrian talks began on January 29, 2016 in Geneva in line with the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2254.
On February 22, Russia and the United States announced a ceasefire agreement between the Syrian government forces and the opposition’s paramilitary units.
The Syrian ceasefire regime officially entered into force in the early hours of February 27. It did not involve IS and the Nusra Front as well as other groups listed as terrorist organizations by the UNSC.
The activities of the Russian Aerospace Forces were significantly curtailed after the ceasefire agreement had been reached.
On March 14, Putin ordered Shoigu to start withdrawing the Russian air group from Syria starting from March 15.
From September 2015 through March 2016, Russian aircraft carried out over 9,000 sorties, killed thousands of militants and destroyed 209 oil refineries and processing facilities. The Russian airstrikes helped the troops loyal to Damascus to liberate about 400 settlements and over 10,000 square kilometers (some 3,800 square miles) of the country’s territory.
While withdrawing the group from Syria, Russia did not renounce its obligations to supply the Syrian government with weapons and military equipment and to train military experts. The Hmeimim air base and the Russian Navy’s logistics support facility in Tartus continued their operations.
On December 29, Putin announced the signing of three important documents. The first document stipulated a ceasefire between the Syrian government and the armed opposition in Syria. The second document listed various measures to monitor the ceasefire regime. And the third one noted a readiness to launch talks on the Syrian peace settlement.
It became possible to sign these documents after two-month Turkish-mediated talks between the Russian Defense Ministry, leaders of the moderate Syrian opposition groups and Damascus.
A total of seven groups, which were the core of the Syrian armed opposition including some 60,000 militants, signed ceasefire agreements.
The ceasefire regime entered into force across the Syrian territory at midnight December 30, with Russia, Turkey and Iran acting as its guarantors.
On January 18, 2017, Russia and Syria signed an agreement on expanding and upgrading the Russian naval maintenance facility in Tartus, as well as a protocol setting forth terms for the deployment of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ aircraft in Syria. The agreement on expanding and upgrading the Tartus facility has duration of 49 years and automatically extends for subsequent 25-year periods. Under the document, Tartus can simultaneously accommodate 11 Russian warships, including nuclear-powered vessels, provided that nuclear and environmental safety standards are complied with.
From September 2015 through September 2017, the Russian Aerospace Force flew over 30,000 combat missions, launched over 92,000 air strikes and hit over 96,000 terrorist facilities. The Russian forces destroyed 8,332 command centers, 17,194 strongpoints, 53,707 militant groups, 970 training camps, 6,769 weapons and ammunition warehouses, 212 oil deposits, 184 refineries, 132 fuel pumping stations and fuel truck convoys and 9,328 other facilities.
As of September 2017, IS militants have been expelled from over 87 percent of Syria’s territory.
The activities of the International Mine Action Center of the Russian Armed Forces had resulted in demining of 60,384 explosive devices on the territory of 5,295 hectares (over 13,000 acres), including in Palmira, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor. Russian specialists have already prepared 586 Syrian sappers and 102 more Syrians are currently being trained by the center.
Russian forces have seriously damaged the terrorists’ control system and logistics support infrastructure. The main weapons and ammunition supply routes are no longer used. Terrorist organizations have lost their profit from illegal oil trade.
The military are currently fighting terrorists in eastern and central Syria. In early September, government forces and their allies managed to lift the three-year siege around the city of Deir ez-Zor. Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said that this operation was the most important victory over extremists in Syria during the entire war.
Air-launched and sea-launched cruise missiles with a range of up to 1,500 kilometers (over 930 miles) are also used by the Russian Armed Forces to destroy the most important terrorist facilities. They are launched by warships, submarines, long-range and strategic bombers.
Russian special operations units play an important role in the conducted anti-terror operations. They eliminate terrorist leaders, destroy vital facilities of the militants and adjust the airstrikes of the Russian aircraft.
Russian military advisers also provide significant support to the Syrian army’s high command being actively involved in planning military operations, training and preparing Syrian servicemen.
An integrated air defense system has been established in Syria. Moscow and Damascus have ensured the interoperability of their airspace reconnaissance systems. Syrian radars relay all air situation data to the Russian military group’s command centers.
Air defense elements near the Hmeimim air base include a radio-technical battalion, one battery of Pantsir-S missile air defense systems and S-400 systems. Russian air defense systems can hit all aerial targets up to 400 kilometers away and at altitude of up to 35 kilometers.
The Syrian operation allowed the Russian military to train simultaneous air and naval strikes that had confirmed the Russian Navy’s ability to hit the enemy on any scale.
Since the beginning of the operation, Russia has tested over 200 weapon systems that have proved their high effectiveness. The Russian servicemen focused on new weapons, in order to quickly detect and eliminate their drawbacks.
In order to exchange the information about the situation in air and to rule out the incidents involving military aircraft, the command of the Russian group started cooperating with the US operational center in Jordan, the Qatar-based center of joint US air operations, the Turkish Air Force’s control center and the Israeli command center.
A troop control system, deployed in Syria, helps maintaining close cooperation between the Russian Aerospace Forces, government forces, the Republican Guard, self-defense units and militias.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s Center for Syrian Reconciliation continues to operate, with 2,237 settlements joining the nationwide peace process through its efforts.
Talks are underway to involve the armed opposition’s units in the Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Homs and Quneitra governorates in the ceasefire regime.
Syrian peace settlement talks are held in the two cities, namely Geneva and Astana.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.