The Kweyris (Kuwieris) air force base had been under a permanent siege by Islamist rebels since 2013, and ISIS joined the siege at the beginning of 2014. The breaking of the siege was broadcast live on state television in Syria, and the news was independently confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The London-based organization added that fighting in the area continued.
The offensive to liberate the Kweyris base started at the end of September when Russian airplanes bombed rebel positions in the area for the first time. Since then, government forces, together with IRGC troops and Hezbollah, have been attacking ISIS positions in the area.
The Russians want to use the Kweyris base for their own air force and plan to assist the Assad coalition from there in a new effort to retake all of Aleppo, which is Syria’s second city.
Iranian and other pro-Assad media report that scores of ISIS fighters and other Islamist rebels in the Aleppo area and other regions laid down their arms and turned themselves into the Syrian authorities over the weekend.
Western Journalism was not able to verify these reports independently; but from other mainstream media reports about the situation in Syria, there emerges the picture that the Russian-led coalition has now succeeded in putting Islamic State and other rebel groups on the defensive.
The only other group that has recently made progress in Syria is the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Yesterday, Western Journalism reported that the Syrian Democratic Coalition had reconquered more than 255 square kilometers in the Al-Hawl region in the northern Hasakah Province.
Russia, meanwhile, has stepped up its air campaign against Islamic State since it became clear that ISIS was responsible for the downing of a Russian civilian airplane in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt a week and a half ago.
Reuters and other media, quoting the Russian Defense Ministry, reported that the Russian air force in Syria flew 85 sorties and hit 277 targets over the last 48 hours. At the same time, the U.S. led coalition against Islamic State conducted a total of 28 air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 24 hours on Tuesday.
Russian ground troops and heavy weapons have also been spotted in areas far beyond their official bases in the Latakia Province. For example, Russian soldiers have been spotted in Hama, more than 100 kilometers away from Latakia.
Activists from the Conflict Intelligence Team “conclude that Russia’s operation in Syria is a ‘hybrid war,’ not unlike the one seen in Ukraine. Apart from the airstrikes, Russia provides Assad forces with surface-to-surface rocket systems, combat vehicles, equipment, advisors, artillery support, and spotters.
“More importantly, recently there have been more and more reports of Russian soldiers, vehicles and ‘volunteers’ being spotted close to the frontlines,” the Unian Information Agency reported.
The photo and video evidence brought by the activists in Syria flies in the face of Russia’s claim that its troops are not actively involved in the battle.
Putin has also dispatched the elite combat unit Spetsnaz to Syria, according to Christian Today, citing the Daily Express in Great Brittain.
The Spetsnaz unit is Russia’s most ruthless combat unit and has been involved in the war against Chechnyan Islamists. They harbor a deep hatred for Jihadis and are extremely well trained and equipped for missions deep in enemy territory.