Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus
Russian Air Campaign - 2016
The Kremlin, acting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime as well as Syrian Kurd militias, was intentionally creating a fresh, destabilizing flood of refugees in order to overwhelm Turkey and Europe. Experts said Russia's intervention was the main cause of the displacement of more than half a million Syrians since September and expectations that 2016 would see even more Syrians flooding Europe than the record numbers seen in 2015.
Russian President Vladimir Putin proved to be a reliable ally of the Syrian government, accomplishing Moscow’s goals before withdrawing its armed forces, US Senator Mike Rounds, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said 15 March 2016. "[President Putin] got the accomplishment that he wanted. He took out the forces who were opposed to the person that is in power in Syria right now. He is their ally, he…will be seen as the guy who stood by his ally," Rounds said.
The Syria operation was mostly funded by the Defense Ministry, President Vladimir Putin told servicemen engaged in the operation. "Indeed, the military operation in Syria had certain costs, but those were mostly resources of the Defense Ministry, funds of the Defense Ministry, approximately 33 billion rubles [$480 million] allotted in the ministry's 2015 budget for exercises and combat training. We simply reassigned those funds to support the group in Syria," said Putin 17 March 2016.
Russian forces, which intervened in support of longtime ally Assad in September 2015, were heavily involved in the Palmyra offensive despite a major drawdown. The recapture of Syria’s historic city of Palmyra from Islamic State was a victory claimed by Syrian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces, as well as Russia’s elite Spetsnaz special forces. Russian officials announced on 28 March 2016 that Palmyra was “liberated with participation of Spetsnaz and military advisers”.
On March 29, 2016 the Russian Defense Ministry announced plans to have 10,300 medals manufactured for “participants in the military operation in Syria,” in what appears to be the closest official indication of the number of people who served in Russia’s six-month military incursion in Syria.
"With respect to Russian activity in Syria, there's absolutely no doubt that they stabilized the regime, and they have put themselves in a position to influence the political solution," General Joe Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said 29 March 2016, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Dunford said the Syrian government was "reeling" in July and August of last year but is now in "much better shape." Russia's withdrawal from Syria "calls into question" their true purpose for entering into the Syrian conflict, he added. "The stated intent was to go after ISIL," he said, using an acronym for Islamic State. "They've now announced the withdrawal. From my perspective, there's still some work to be done against ISIL."
Addressing Russia’s anti-IS deployment, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said 12 February 2016 at a panel discussion during the Munich Security Conference, the air operation was not targeting civilians. "No one has yet presented any evidence of our air strikes hitting the civilian population." French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who took the floor before Medvedev's address, urged Moscow to cease its anti-IS operation, claiming it was crucial to achieve peace in Syria. "France respects Russia and its interests ... But we know that to find the path to peace again, the Russian bombing of civilians has to stop."
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Russia is "behaving like a terrorist organization and forcing civilians to flee" by carrying out air strikes "without any discrimination between civilians and soldiers, or children and the elderly." US Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona) says President Vladimir Putin "wants to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project."
Although the fighter aircraft of the Russian armed forces were numerically far inferior to the jets of the Western Alliance, the Kremlin pilots overall achieved a greater effect during operations against the terror network IS and other rebel groups. Th reason for this is the higher frequency of Russian air attacks.
According to a leaked NATO analysis, around 40 of the Russian fighter jets stationed in Latakia flew up to 75 sorties per day. The NATO fleet, with a total of 180 machines attacked every day only 20 targets on the ground. President Vladimir Putin, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian armed forces, planned to use up to 140 jet fighters in Syria in the near future. In early 2016 Latakia saw the arrival of four highly modern aircraft of the type of Sukhoi Su-35. The Su-35 was said to be superior to most aircraft of Western production.
On 14 March 2016, President Putin claimed that the Kremlin would start withdrawing its main forces in Syria, saying that the military has largely achieved its objectives. "I think that the task that was assigned to the Ministry of Defense and the armed forces as a whole has achieved its goal, and so I order the defense minister to start tomorrow withdrawing the main part of our military factions from the Syrian Arab Republic," President Putin said during a meeting with the Russian Defense and Foreign Ministries, according to RIA Novosti. The withdrawal would begin on 16 March 2016. "With the participation of the Russian military… the Syrian armed forces and patriotic Syrian forces have been able to achieve a fundamental turnaround in the fight against international terrorism and have taken the initiative in almost all respects," the Russian president said.
"Our bases of operations – our naval base in Tartus and our air base at Hmeymim – will operate as usual. They should be protected from land, sea, and air," Putin said. "That part of our military group has traditionally been in Syria over the course of many years, and today will have to perform a very important function in monitoring the ceasefire and creating conditions for the peace process."
"Backed by our aviation, Syrian forces have freed 400 populated areas and over 10,000 square kilometers [3,860 square miles] of territories," Shoigu said during a Kremlin meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Saying that Russia's Air Force in Syria has conducted more than 9,000 sorties starting from September 30, 2015, the Defense Minister added that for the first time massive strikes at a range over 1,500 kilometers [930 miles] with both air and ship-launched missiles had been conducted.
The first aircraft to depart were the Su-34, probably these least suited to the Syria mission, and surely the highest maintenance. In any even, Russia picked up an airbase at Latakia, where previously it had none. The chair of the Russian Federation Council's Committee on Defense and Security said that around 1,000 Russian service personnel and some reconnaissance aircraft would remain at the Hmeymim and Tartus bases.
Putin's televised statement that "the task put before the Defense Ministry and Russia's armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled" echoed of President George W. Bush's "mission accomplished" moment in Iraq. While Western leaders have stressed that few of Russia's bombs have targeted Islamic State militants, Putin's boast that Russia helped Syrian forces "achieve a fundamental turnaround in the fight against international terrorism" may have found more sympathetic ears at home. Russia's state TV audience is also being fed the more contentious claim that they did so with no collateral damage.
During Aerospace Forces’ military operation, “more than 9,500 sorties have been conducted and some 29,000 terrorist targets have been destroyed,” Sputnik quoted Lt. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, chief of the General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, as saying 27 Ap[ril 2016. Over 200 terrorist oil facilities have been destroyed, he said, adding that “not a single airstrike delivered by the Russian aviation group… has caused destruction of civilian facilities or civilian casualties in the country,” TASS reported. Russian sappers in Syria’s Palmyra have defused more than 3,000 explosive devices and cleared 23km of road, according to Rudskoy.
Since Moscow started its air operation in Syria on 30 September 2015, the Russian Air Force had eliminated over a third of Islamic State fighters in the country, the deputy head of Russia’s top security body claimed 24 May 2016. “We estimate that at the beginning of our operation Al-Nusra Front and Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] possessed about 80,000 fighters, of whom 28,000 (35 percent) have already been eliminated. This is [the result of] our actions together with the Syrian Army,” Evgeny Lukyanov said at the VII international security summit being held in Grozny, the capital of Russia’s Chechen Republic. “Well, the [US-led anti-terrorist] coalition eliminated an additional 5,000 in two years,” Lukyanov added.
In early June 2016 Russia increased dramatically both the rate and breadth of its airstrikes in Syria, tripling the number of air raids within a few days and demonstrating its “freedom of action” in the war-torn country, according to an analysis by a US-based think tank. “The escalation marks a dangerous shift in the Russian airstrike pattern to levels only seen prior to the brokering of the cessation of hostilities agreement in late February,” said Genevieve Casagrande, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War said 07 June 2016. The Syrian Observatory called the bombing of Aleppo, which has targeted hospitals, “hysterical.” Since April 22, it claims, at least 2,600 people have been wounded in the strikes and at least 500 civilians have died — including 105 children under the age of eighteen years and 76 women.
The number of Russians that additional measures of social support as the combatants in Syria, will not exceed 25 thousand people can be provided. This was announced by Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov in the State Duma 15 June 2016, introducing a bill that would have the status of war veterans involved in the operation in Syria. According to him, the legal basis for referring to the veterans of operations of Russian citizens, aimed at Syrian territory in connection with the conduct of hostilities, a decision of the Federation Council on September 30, 2015. "It is expected that the total number of citizens who will be provided with additional social support measures in connection with the adoption and implementation of the bill will not exceed 25 thousand people", - said Antonov.
The Russian Defense Ministry said 16 Augsut 2016 that Tu-22M3 "Backfire" bombers and Su-34 "Fullback" fighter-bombers took off from Hamedan air base in Iran to hit what the ministry said were the Islamic State terror group and al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo as well as in Deir ez-Zor and Idlib. Russia's use of an Iranian base to launch airstrikes in Syria jolted the US and its allies in the region, but the timing may have more to do with concerns about the fate of the Syrian regime than the need of Moscow or Tehran to send a message. Both Russia and Iran have become increasingly concerned about the most recent rebel offensive in Aleppo city, which made progress against regime forces in the south and east despite intense fighting in recent weeks.
Some Russian bombers and transport aircraft reportedly were stationed at Hamedan as far back as November 2015. "Iranian fighters have been seen escorting Russian bombers as they transit Iranian airspace," said Marie Donovan, an Iran analyst with the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project. More recent images obtained by Stratfor, a U.S.-based global intelligence company, indicate Russia had at least three or four of its Backfires and some Fullback aircraft stationed at Hamedan in the weeks or months leading up to the strike. And Stratfor believed it would not have taken much work to prepare Hamedan to handle the larger Backfire bombers. "We now have Russian aviation, Russian aircraft directly based in Iran," said Stratfor senior military analyst Omar Lamrani. "It's an escalation."
The Russian air force's bombing campaign in Syria marked its first anniversary 30 September 2016, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying there was no "time frame" for the operation. The Kremlin has officially declared the main objectives of its air campaign in Syria to be eliminating radical Islamic extremists in Syria and protecting Russia from the spread of international terrorism. However, independent experts and other observers both inside and outside Russia say that Moscow is using any means necessary to keep the regime of Bashar al-Assad in power. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported Friday that about 3,800 civilians, almost a quarter of them children, had been killed in Russian airstrikes in Syria since the start of Moscow's air campaign
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told US lawmakers 25 February 2016 that Russia was “preoccupied” with its involvement in Syria and could soon take additional steps to bolster the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “They are confronting the possibility, I think, or considering whether they're going to put more ground forces in,” he said during testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “I think the constraining factor for them is the memory of Afghanistan, getting into kind of a bottomless pit,” Clapper added. “That does affect Russian thinking and is one of the reasons why I think there's apparent interest in a cessation of hostilities.”
Amnesty International accused Russian and Syrian forces March 03, 2016 of deliberately targeting Syrian hospitals and medical facilities with airstrikes to ease the path for pro-regime ground forces advancing on northern Aleppo. Tirana Hassan, the humanitarian group's crisis response director, said of the past three months of air raids: "Syrian and Russian forces have been deliberately attacking health facilities in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. But what is truly egregious is that wiping out hospitals appears to have become part of their military strategy."
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