The Russian buildup in Syria continues as the Air Force deploys air defense missile systems to secure Syrian air space.
Military activity in Syria has caused tension between Russia and the United States, and now the head of the Russian Air Force has revealed that missile defense systems and other pieces of high-tech hardware have been deployed in the country, according to RT.
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Air Force Commander speaks out on Russian presence in Syria
“We figured out all possible threats in advance, that’s why we brought not only fighter jets, strike-fighters and helicopters, but also air defense missile weapon systems,” Viktor Bondarev, the chief of Russia’s Air Force, told Komsomolskaya Pravda daily. He did not provide exact details of the missile systems that have been deployed but he did add that Russia is prepared for any eventuality.
“Let’s say a warplane is hijacked in a country neighboring Syria, to be used to make an airstrike on (Russia’s Khmeimim airbase near Latakia). Even that is something we must be ready for,” Bondarev said. Up to this point there have been no attacks on the base and no injuries sustained by Russian servicemen.
Bondarev later explained the thinking behind the Russian deployment in Syria. “ISIS are a very mobile gathering of rabble,” Bondarev said. “They use cars, motorbikes, bicycles and donkeys to move around and change their positions after every strike. You can’t effectively chase them with tanks, trucks and armored vehicles. Aviation is a different story.”
Russia has deployed around 50 aircraft to Latakia airbase
Russia currently has around 50 aircraft in Syria, which Bondarev claims are up to the task. There are no plans to strengthen the Russian presence at this time, he said. While the military jets arrived in Syria under their own steam, helicopters were shipped in on cargo planes.
Bondarev said that U.S. intelligence were not made aware of the transportation operation, but did not provide any further details. The Commander said that pilots chosen to take part in the Syrian campaign had previous combat experience and they are provided with information prior to every mission which should prevent them from striking civilian locations such as schools, hospitals and mosques.
Each operation is monitored from the Russian Air Force headquarters, and is video recorded to ward off accusations that Russian jets are bombing civilian facilities. Moscow has been criticized in the West with increasing regularity for the accuracy of its airstrikes.
Bondarev hails advance of Syrian Army
In response the Russian Defense Ministry has started publishing videos of its airstrikes each day, which the U.S. Air Force has never done. Bondarev claims that Russian airstrikes have forced Islamic State militants to abandon their bunkers and checkpoints, moving closer to civilian areas to avoid detection by surveillance aircraft.
Bondarev told the press that the terrorists are retreating, creating space for government troops that have gained significant amounts of territory in recent weeks. The job of eliminating terrorists is made easier by the fact that they are now outside their fortified positions, where they were previously protected from artillery and tanks.
The Commander reports that the terrorists have taken to hiding in larger towns where they can blend into civilian populations after finding that artillery fire left them vulnerable in small villages.
Bombing campaign controversial for multiple reasons
Russian air strikes started on September 30, and Moscow claims that it is targeting terrorist groups. However the Kremlin’s long-standing relationship with President Bashar al-Assad has led to accusations that Russia is simply protecting an ally rather than combating terrorism.
The airbase in Latakia has turned into a forward operations base for Russian forces, and hosts SU-24M and SU-34 bombers alongside ground attack SU-25CM jets and multi-role Su-30CM fighters. Russian forces also boast Mi-24 attack helicopters and multi-role Mi-8 helicopters.
While the bombing campaign has provoked criticism from the United States, it could also have played a part in the downing of a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai peninsula last weekend. Russian President Vladimir Putin previously claimed that Russian activity did not increase the likelihood of a terror attack against its citizens, but the international community has now raised to possibility that the jet was bombed by a terrorist group associated with ISIS.
Both the British government and U.S. intelligence officials have claimed that analysis suggests that the plane was brought down due to the detonation of an explosive device on board. A Sinai-based terror group already claimed responsibility for the attack, but no official announcement has been made.
Should it be proven that terrorists blew up the plane, could Putin reconsider his bombing campaign?