LIVE UPDATES: A Russian air strike has killed the commander of a Free Syrian Army unit that was making advances in the hills of the Latakia province.
The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.
Reuters reported today, citing a pro-government source, that 3 Russian soldiers were killed and several more wounded when a shell hit their position in the coastal province of Latakia.
As Reuters reported:
Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights which monitors the conflict, told Reuters
that his sources in the area had confirmed the deaths of Russians, but
did not have a figure. He said he believed they were not regular Russian
forces but volunteers.
pro-government source, who is familiar with military events in Syria,
said that at least 20 Russians were at the post in the Nabi Younis area
when the shell struck.
90 percent probability that the shell was fired by the militants,” he
told Reuters, referring to insurgent groups that the Syrian army, backed
by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iranian fighters, has been battling in the
A Syrian blogger had reports of even more troops killed:
TASS reported that the Russian ambassador in Syria said (translation by The Interpreter):
“We do not have any information about any supposed ‘death of three Russians’ or ‘three Russian serivcemen’ in Syria, which Reuters reported. All of this looks like the latest information plant.”
The Kremlin would find it hard to confirm deaths in combat as official spokesmen have repeatedly claimed that no Russian troops have been deployed to Syria, only “advisers.”
To be sure, the head of the parliamentary committee for defense admitted that volunteers would likely go to Syria, and one mercenary known for fighting in Ukraine has reported that he has recruited fighters for Syria. The speaker of the Russian parliament then denied that Russia would send ground troops.
Last month, before the start of the Russian bombing campaign, there were reports of 10 Russian soldiers killed which were never confirmed.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
The Russian Air Force has killed Captain Basil Zimo, the commander of the Free Syrian Army’s First Coastal Division, in the Latakia province in an air strike in the Jabal al-Akrad area, in the hills to the west of the Ghab plain.
The Syrian Local Coordination Committees (LCC) report that 57 people were killed yesterday in Latakia, most of them as a result of Russian air strikes on the village of Bisharfah.
Reuters cites a Syrian Observatory for Human Rights report that claims 45 were killed in the strikes.
The First Coastal Division have been holding off a regime offensive and have even continued to make some gains in the highlands despite Russian air strikes.
They have made extensive use of US-supplied TOW anti-tank missiles to attack regime tanks and gun emplacements.
Michael Horowitz, an analyst at the Levantine Group, suggests that the Russians may have intercepted rebel communications in order to target Zimo:
Certainly, the Russian military has impressive tools for signals intelligence and has used phone signal data to locate targets in the past, most infamously in the assassination of Dzhokhar Dudayev, the president of the breakaway Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, in 1996.
In the Homs province, Russian jets continued to hit the rebel pocket north of the regional capital, striking Talbiseh, Teir Maaleh and al-Ghanto.
The LCC reported 4 air strikes on Teir Maaleh, in coordination with a regime ground assault.
One target struck in Teir Maaleh was a mosque, which was reportedly housing internally displaced people (IDPs):
Meanwhile the combined Russian, Syrian regime and Iranian offensive towards Aleppo continues apace, with Russian jets striking several towns and villages, including Sarmin, in the Idlib province, where the LCC reports eight people were killed.
Remains of a school in Sarmin today. Photo from LCC.
Rebel fighters still appear to be inflicting heavy losses on the attacking forces, however.
Here Kataib Thuwar al-Sham fighters are using US-supplied TOW missiles near Wudehi, south of Aleppo city: