LIVE UPDATES: Syrian regime forces are now reported to be on the advance supported by intense Russian air strikes on a pocket of rebel-held territory in the Hama province.
The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.
Each day the Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC) attempt to verify the number of people killed each day in Syria. Here is today’s tally:
By the end of Wednesday, October 07, 2015, LCC has documented the fall of 43 martyrs including 5 women, 4 children and a martyr under torture.
12 martyrs in #Idlib most of them passed away by Russian warplanes shelling on #Maasran, 10 martyrs in #Hama most of them passed away during clashes with Assad’s forces in the northern suburb, 7 martyrs in #Aleppo, 7 in #Daraa, 3 in #Qunaitra, 2 in #Damascus_and_its_Suburbs and 1 in #Latakia.
The LCC is an activist group, but a group which has a proven track record for reliability. Over the last four and a half years, Western journalists have documented the verification methodology used by the LCC to confirm, to the best of their ability, news in each city and town across the region.
For more information on reliable (and unreliable) sources in Syria, read our entry here:
As we’ve been reporting, Russia has released video which it says shows Russian cruise missiles attack against targets in Syria. As we’ve also been reporting, both areas in Al Raqqah and in Idlib province were targeted. While the targets in Al Raqqah may or may not have been ISIS fighters, the targets in Idlib province certainly were not.
Joseph Dempsey, research analyst for IISS, confirms our analysis:
The areas in Idlib province are far from the Caspian Sea, but are in fact very close to Russian ground, air, and sea forces in the Latakia region and the Mediterranean Sea.
So why would Russia fire extremely expensive cruise missiles just to hit targets they can destroy with significantly less expensive bombs, rockets, and artillery?
Politics. The polished video of Russian ships firing cruise missiles into Syria is certainly designed to send several messages. The first, that Russia is strong, a modern military capable of defeating its enemies. Both domestic and foreign audiences are the intended target here. Furthermore, Russian cruise missile strikes against anti-Assad rebels and activists whom the US nominally supports is certainly designed to curb US efforts to recruit more rebel forces to join its cause.
The second is that Russia is taking the initiative to defeat terrorism in Syria (even though this is largely a myth). The US and its allies oppose Russia’s mission in Syria. The new Russian government talking point, then, is that the Russian government cares more about defeating terrorism than the “West,” a message that’s echoed through Kremlin propaganda for some time.
The third — those missiles had to fly over both Iran and Iraq in order to reach Syria. The Iraqi government must have approved this flight plan, and this makes the US look even weaker than it already looks in this situation.
— James Miller
The Assad regime has launched an offensive in the Hama province against Free Syrian Army (FSA) units north of the regional capital in an apparent attempt to encircle a rebel salient.
The Russian Air Force has been pounding this area for a week now and today saw MLRS strikes by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
Video footage, uploaded by the 13th Brigade of the FSA, shows SAA tanks advancing northwest from Taybat al-Imam towards the rebel-held village of Khirbat Masasinah.
The fighters engage the tanks with TOW missiles, destroying at least two:
We can verify the location of this footage by comparing the view of the water tower in the second video with this Panoramio photo of Taybat al-Imam:
Google Earth images show numerous construction sites on the towns fringes, as seen in the footage.
Another video from the 13th Brigade, filmed in the same area, shows two Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships firing flares as they manoeuvre over the town:
The video description says that they are Russian helicopters but we cannot verify this as such.
However Russian Hind helicopters have indeed been deployed to the Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad airbase near Latakia.
Alabdallah even claims that Russian soldiers were killed by FSA fighters:
However we are treating this claim with skepticism until there is any evidence to verify it.
However it certainly appears that Russian air assets are working in close coordination with the regime. Russia is now providing close air support for the SAA offensive, rather than just supporting with air strikes on strategic targets.
Meanwhile, to the north-west of Kafr Zita, another FSA-affiliated brigade, Suqor al-Ghab, destroyed a SAA tank in Kafr Nabudah:
Russian air strikes on the town were reported earlier today.
With fighting near Kafr Nabudah, Morek and Khirbat Masasinah, it appears that the regime is attempting to encircle the rebels.
Kafr Nabudah appears above the leftmost arrow in the tweet below explaining the front line:
It is important to note here that both Suqor al-Ghab and the 13th Brigade are using US-supplied TOW missiles, which brings us to the point that the Syrian offensive, supported by Russian air strikes, and possibly even close air support from helicopters, is attacking not ISIS, but US-backed opposition groups.
— Pierre Vaux and Ronak Housaine
We are uncertain how much of the footage is archived demonstrative material and how much is from the actual launches.
The video also includes several glimpses of the missiles purported flight paths, taking them over Iran and Iraq before entering Syrian territory.
One of the two groups of missiles are aimed, according to the video, towards a target just south-east of Raqqa, in ISIS-held territory:
However the other group of missiles heads much further west, striking targets well outside ISIS-held territory.
According to this map from the video, the cruise missiles struck targets west of Aleppo and near Idlib and Maarrat al-Nouman:
— Pierre Vaux
Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoihu, has told state television that Russian naval vessels in the Caspian Sea have conducted long-range missile strikes on ISIS positions in Syria.
RIA Novosti reports that Shoigu told Rossiya-1 that four vessels of the Caspian fleet had fired 26 cruise missiles at 11 targets.
The minister claimed that all of the targets had been destroyed by Kalibr missiles at a range of almost 1,500 kilometres.
This means that the weapons used were likely 3M-14 missiles, known by the NATO code name of SS-N-30A Sagaris.
In order to reach Syria from the Caspian, Russia appears to have obtained permission from both Iran and Iraq for the missiles to overfly their territory.
However neither Shoigu nor the Ministry of Defence have yet given any more details on the precise locations of the targets, nor have they released any footage.
— Pierre Vaux
The Russian Air Force has stepped up its attacks on rebel-held areas of northern Syria over the last 24 hours, with signs of a coordinated ground offensive by Syrian regime forces in the Hama province.
Videos uploaded to YouTube this morning purportedly show Russian air strikes on Kafr Zita and al-Lataminah.
This video purportedly shows a Russian strike on Tall as Sayyad, about 3 kilometres north-east of Kafr Zita. The aircraft appears to be a Sukhoi Su-24.
The narrator of the video says that four Russian jets are still flying over the area after the bombing.
The video descriptions claim that Russian jets used thermobaric weapons in their attacks on al-Lataminah and Kafr Zita.
Russia claims that their strikes in Kafr Zita are directed at terrorists. Yesterday the Russian Ministry of Defence uploaded a video showing “terrorists hiding their military hardware near civilian sites.”
The MOD says that the parking of vehicles near the mosque is evidence that the targets are terrorists rather than “moderates.”
That example shows that the “moderate citizens” will not use peaceful population as a human shield.
Moreover, they will not gather armed vehicles under the cover of religious institutions.
All these actions are nothing but the signature of the terrorism.
It cannot be ruled out that now terrorists are intentionally preparing acts of provocation such as detonation of mosques in order to demonstrate fake photos and videos to indict the Russian aviation.
That the video was filmed in Kafr Zita was confirmed by one Twitter user’s geolocation of the mosque:
It is interesting to note here that the MOD makes no attempt to label the fighters in Kafr Zita as ISIS, has it has repeatedly done so with other rebel targets, but instead seeks to justify attacks on opposition forces.
Another video uploaded this morning shows Hind attack helicopters over government-held Morek, just to the east of Kafr Zita and al-Lataminah.
Free Syrian Army (FSA) aligned units have been fighting regime forces on the fringes of Morek since the summer, using US-supplied TOW anti-tank missiles.
The air assault is being supported by Syrian army rocket artillery barrages.
This video, uploaded today, appears to show rockets flying towards Kafr Zita.
The pattern of the smoke trails and the spread of the impact detonations indicate that these are rockets fired from multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS), likely BM-30 Smerch, which were spotted in use yesterday near Atshan, around 20 kilometres to the east.
There were also reports of Russian air strikes to the north, on Kafranbel and Darat Izza: