Eighth Russian Soldier Killed In Syria; ISIS Shoots Down Assad Helicopter

May 11, 2016
Anton Yerygin is the eighth confirmed Russian soldier to be killed in Syria

LIVE UPDATES: The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.

ISIS Launches Offensive To Capture Gas Fields Near Palmyra

New evidence shows that the Syrian government negotiated with ISIS when it recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra earlier this year, allowing the terrorist group to withdraw its heavy equipment in exchange for giving up the town. Those same documents also prove that the Syrian government works with ISIS to trade and sell oil for other goods:

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IS Files Reveal Assad's Deals With Militants

Islamic State and the Assad regime in Syria have been colluding with each other in deals on the battleground, Sky News can reveal. Our exclusive investigation into leaked secret IS files suggests one piece of co-operation was over the ancient city of Palmyra.

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May 12, 2016 00:55 (GMT)

But now ISIS is launching its own offensive near Palmyra, not necessarily to recapture the city but to capture some of the natural gas fields, Syria’s richest, that are nearby.

Newsweek reports that according to multiple sources, ISIS is challenging Assad’s supply lines in the area:

ISIS-affiliated radio station Al-Bayan said that the group’s militants had advanced towards the city after capturing a rocket-launching site near Tayfur air base, located 40 miles from Palmyra, as well as two government checkpoints. It said that it was laying “siege” to the city of Palmyra despite its recent loss.

The capture of the rocket-launching site “helps in severing the supply routes of the [Syrian] army from T-4 base to Palmyra, and tightening the siege on the city,” Al-Bayan’s radio report said, Associated Press reported Wednesday.

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ISIS fights back near Palmyra to cut Syrian regime supply route

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) cut a key supply route for the Syrian regime to Palmyra on Tuesday and claimed that it is advancing towards the ancient city-just weeks after its recapture by Syrian forces backed by Russian air strikes.

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May 12, 2016 00:56 (GMT)

Associated Press reports that ISIS made significant advances today, Wednesday, May 11, in capturing the “T-4” (Tayfur) air base:

For the government forces, the capture effectively severs a highway linking Palmyra to the government-controlled T-4 air base and the provincial capital Homs, threatening government supply routes.


Al-Bayan radio reported that ISIS militants took control of the deserted site, seized two government checkpoints guarding the air base and downed a military helicopter to the north of the base. The Observatory also reported the downing of the aircraft but said the fate of its crew remains unclear.

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As cease-fire ends, ISIS advances on Palmyra in Syria

BEIRUT – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria ( ISIS) militants advanced toward the central Syrian city of Palmyra on Wednesday, threatening to besiege the world-famous ancient site several weeks after the government recaptured it from the extremists.

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May 12, 2016 01:02 (GMT)

Yesterday there were signs that the ISIS attack was significant: 

It now appears that the main road between Palmyra and Homs has been retaken today by ISIS forces. 

Curiously, despite the fact that ISIS shot down a helicopter in Homs province yesterday, some have pointed out that there is a suspicious lack of regime air activity in the province today

James Miller
Russian Soldier Killed In Combat In Homs Province, Syria
The Russian Defense Ministry has reported the death of another Russian soldier in Syria, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing TASS.

According to a representative of the Russian Hmeemeem Air Base, serviceman Anton Yerygin was wounded during the shelling of Homs and died as a result of his wounds (translation by The Interpreter):

In the province of Homs, while performing an assignment to accompany the automobiles of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of Hostile Parties, as a result of shelling by militants, serviceman Anton Yerygin sustained severe wounds. The wounded soldier was rapidly taken to the hospital where Russian military medics fought for Anton’s life for two hours, but were unable to save him.

Yerygin was posthumously given a state award.

Yarygin is the 7th officially-confirmed death of a Russian soldier in combat since the onset of Russia’s bombing campaign September 30, 2015. Eight have been reported killed, but the last death was not confirmed by the Defense Ministry.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
Assad Helicopter Reportedly Shot Down By ISIS; New Anti-Aircraft Missiles Spotted In Syria

Since the start of the armed stage of the Syrian crisis in 2012, a large number of Syrian regime aircraft were shot down by anti-Assad rebel groups. Certainly, the rebels have in their possession any number of guns that can take down low-flying aircraft, but rebels have also used anti-aircraft missiles. For the most part, these missiles appear to have been acquired the way most of the rebels’ weapons were — they were captured from the Syrian military or were in the possession of Assad’s troops when they defected to fight against the regime.

However, some of them have come from outside the country, and there has periodically been debate about whether new stockpiles of anti-aircraft weapons were reaching Syria. 

The investigators at Bellingcat have recently established that a new type of anti-aircraft has reached Syria’s battlefields, likely one from Iraq:  

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A New MANPADS Appears in Syria: The "QW MANPADS"/Misagh-1 – bellingcat

Syria is a hotbed of weapons proliferation. While a variety of weapon systems have been proliferated in Syria, MANPADS proliferation in particular is a significant concern for the international community. These systems are user-friendly, easy to transport and capable of taking down civilian aircraft.

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May 11, 2016 23:00 (GMT)

The fighter seen in the photographs told Bellingcat that they captured the weapon from the Syrian government. Since the weapon is either Iranian made or a knock-off of the Iranian design, it’s possible that Iran sent the weapon to the Syrian government and it was intercepted. Either that, or Iran was attempting to arm pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias from Iraq. Bellingcat reports:

Given the close relationship between Iran and Syria, it would not be surprising if Iran transferred the system to the Syrian government. Iran has attempted to proliferate the QW/Misagh-1 system to non-state actors in the past. Iran transferred the QW/Misagh-1 to the Iraqi Shia militia Kata’ib Hezbollah during the American occupation of Iraq. While it is technically possible that Iraqi Shia militias took the system into Syria, it is not logical as there is no hostile air force in Syria for Shia militias to engage.

Regardless of where the weapon came from, there are signs that MANPADS (man-portable surface-to-air missiles) are indeed in use by rebel groups, Most concerning, however, there is evidence that ISIS may in fact be in possession of such anti-aircraft weapons. At the end of April, a Syrian jet, a MiG-23, was shot down near the Dumayr airbase, east of Damascus. The first ones on the scene were ISIS fighters: 

Syrian Jet Shot Down West of Damascus; Reports Russia May Have Fired At Israeli Aircraft

A Syrian military jet has reportedly either crashed or has been shot down east of Damascus; Israeli press reports that Russian jets fired on Israeli aircraft twice in the last two weeks.

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May 11, 2016 23:48 (GMT)

Yesterday, May 10, the pro-Assad Al-Masdar News reported that a Syrian helicopter was, according to ISIS, shot down by the terrorists east of Homs. Masdar notes that the Syrian government has not confirmed the incident, but it’s a safe bet that if this news outlet is reporting it, then someone in the Syrian government is admitting that it happened.

James Miller