The Russian media outlet REN TV has released additional information about the clash in Idlib when 29 members of the Russian Military Police troops were surrounded by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) on September 20.
The checkpoint, staffed by Russian and Syrian forces, was attacked with mortar fire by militants before the sunrise. Hayat Tahrir al-Sha forces opened fire with mortars and so-called “hell cannons” — gas cylinders with attached explosives.
According to the commander of the Russian Military Police Alexander Samoylov, the Russians defended the checkpoint on the second floor until the mortars started hitting the building directly. Then they moved to the ground floor and continued the defence with the Syrian soldiers situated there.
Under the cover of mortars, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham infantry approached the checkpoint and opened fire. A Russian Special Operations Forces unit arrived as back up upon alert, destroying the gas cylinder throwing device and the mortar. On their line of defence there were at least four of five tanks, and about the same amount of infantry fighting vehicles, says one of the special ops soldiers.
The first hour of the assault exhausted the grenade launcher ammo at the checkpoint leaving no options to fight back the military vehicles. The Russian Air Force attack helicopters and Su-25 Grach (Frogfoot) jets arrived to provide air support to the Russian and Syrian troops.
In a matter of minutes, the checkpoint was cut off. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham military equipment penetrated the defence front as far as 12 km (~7 mi.). The 29 Military Police members and 15 Special Operations soldiers were surrounded.
The Russian soldiers managed to break through and make their escape on a Typhoon MRAP armored vehicle with the air forces providing cover.
“The vehicle was our only hope,” says Military Police member Sultan Misirbiyev. “Back when the fighting started I risked driving it into the basement under enemy fire.”
According to the commander of the Military Police, the enemy assault force was very well equipped, with the militants wearing multicam and tactical vests.
The Russian Military of Defence reported that the attack was initiated by the US as an attempt to stop the Syrian Army advance east of Deir ez-Zor city.