Russia has again confirmed that more Tu-22M3 strikes took place in areas near Palmyra on 14th July 2016. This comes just over a day after the previous Tu-22M3 strikes in the same area.
The Russian Defence Ministry has published a video of the air strike, showing the Tu-22M3s taking off from an air strip in southern Russia and dropping their bombs. It also shows the target being hit as seen through the aircraft bomb sight.
The second strike by the same number of 6 bombers shows that the previous strike was not a one-off. A bombing campaign involving heavy bombers in the Palmyra area is clearly underway. This is obviously more than a response to the shooting down by Daesh of a single helicopter.
The big question is what is this bombing campaign designed to achieve. Obviously a message of Russian resolve is being sent to the US in advance of US Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Moscow today. However it is likely that the bombing is principally driven by military factors ie. by the situation on the ground.
The British journalist Robert Fisk recently visited Palmyra where he found the Russians firmly in control. He also had an interesting conversation there with a Syrian general who is a senior official in Syria’s military intelligence. This general told Fisk that Russian air support was essential for the liberation of Palmyra, and who also hinted that the next objective in the area is the lifting of the siege of the desert city of Deir Ezzor further to the east. It seems that raising the siege of Deir Ezzor is being given higher priority than the advance on Raqqa – Daesh’s main stronghold (or “capital”) in Syria.
The key point is that the bulk of the Syrian army appears to be currently engaged in positional warfare around the northwestern city of Aleppo – before the war Syria’s largest city and its commercial capital – where it is trying to cut off the supply routes to the rebels who control some of Aleppo’s districts.
That leaves fewer Syrian troops to wage the war in the east. By way of example, it seems the force which liberated Palmyra numbered no more than 5,000 men.
If the plan is indeed to advance on Deir Ezzor then it may be that the Russians are bringing their heavy bombers to bear in order to compensate for the lack of large numbers of Syrian troops in the area.