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Russia Says Syria Government Controls 85 Percent of Country

12.09.2017 17:37

Russia's military said Tuesday that Syrian troops have liberated about 85 percent of the war-torn country's territory from militants; a major turn-around two years after Moscow intervened to lend a hand to its embattled long-time ally.

Russia has been providing air cover for President Bashar Assad's troops since 2015, changing the tide of the war and giving Syrian troops an advantage over opposition fighters and Islamic State group militants (outlawed in Russia). Speaking to reporters at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's province of Latakia, Lt. Gen. Alexander Lapin said Syrian government still must clear the militants who hold approximately 27,000 square kilometers (10,425 square miles), the remaining 15 percent. Syrian troops have in recent weeks pushed militants out of central Homs province, near the border with Lebanon, and are now fighting them in the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province in the east.

Deir el-Zour is the last major IS holdout in Syria and the Syrian campaign, backed by Russian air power, broke a nearly three-year-old siege on the provincial capital where troops had been encircled by IS militants.

It's important to remember that Russian air power has been instrumental in recent Syrian military successes. With Damascus facing major battlefield defeats, Moscow signed a deal with the Syrian government in August 2015 to deploy an air force contingent and other military assets at the Hemeimeem base, in the heartland of Assad's Alawite religious minority.

In a matter of weeks, Russia's military built up the base so it could host dozens of Russian jets. It delivered thousands of tons of military equipment and supplies by sea and heavy-lift cargo planes in an operation dubbed the "Syrian Express". A month later, Moscow declared the launch of its air campaign in Syria – Russia's first military action outside the former Soviet Union since the federation's collapse.