Originally appeared on iz.ru; Translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
Three years ago, on September 30, 2015, the Russian operation in Syrian began. On this day, the Federation Council unanimously approved the use of Russian Armed Forces in the Syrian Arab Republic. And the next day, October 1, the Aerospace Forces carried out strikes on militants’ positions. These events were preceded by careful preparation: the Russian military created in Syria the Khmeimim base with all the necessary infrastructure, deployed security posts and transferred the aviation group. The main task of the Russian group in Syria was to fight against international terrorism, in particular, the al-Nusra and Islamic State groups (banned in Russia). The goal was the destruction of extremists on the “far abroad”. In December 2017, President Vladimir Putin said that all the tasks set for the Russian Armed Forces had been fulfilled.
By the third anniversary of the beginning of the Russian military operation in Syria, Izvestia reconstructed the chronology of its preparations.
An advanced group of Russian specialists arrived in Syria in June 2015. It was composed of several high-ranking military and security personnel. Their task was to determine the location of the future military base.
As a few sources, familiar with the situation, told Izvestia, the group studied several sites for the deployment of the Russian military base. After careful analysis, the choice fell on the Basil al-Assad Airport in the province of Latakia.
“Back in the 1980s, there was a Soviet facility there, where electronic surveillance was carried out”, explained one of the sources to Izvestia. “Accordingly, the airport was well known to our specialists. Also nearby, in Tartus, there was also a point of logistical support of the Russian Navy. It guaranteed fast delivery of cargoes and military equipment”.
But the al-Assad Airport had one serious drawback. At that time, it was quite close to the front line. In the summer of 2015, clashes between militants and government troops were taking place in mountainous Latakia, and the airport was just over 30km away. Still, the advance group recommended deploying an air base at the airport. As a result, this proposal was approved.
According to the Izvestia sources, the deployment of the Khmeimim base was preceded by a unique operation. Before transferring planes, helicopters and group equipment, it was necessary to create a security perimeter in the region. This task was assigned to the Special Forces and the Marine Corps.
At the end of July-beginning of August, a Special Forces unit of one of the Special Forces brigades of the Southern Military District with a special assignment conducted a “sweep” of the al-Assad Airport and its environs. The commandos not only checked, but also took control of all the buildings and structures, as well as important facilities on the ground.
After that, the Marine units of the Black Sea Fleet came in. To create a security perimeter around the future air base, they deployed checkpoints and guard positions. Later, artillery and tanks reinforced the Marines.
August was spent on the transfer of necessary equipment. It required building and equipping parking for the aircraft and helicopters, warehouses, parks for combat and auxiliary vehicles. For the first time, modular houses-containers were used to accommodate the personnel. The personnel immediately called them “kimpams”.
From August 8, the “Syrian Express” began work. Six Russian large amphibious ships began to transport equipment and cargo. Until September, they made the transition more than ten times between the bases of the Black Sea Fleet and the Syrian port of Tartus. Later, cargo ferries were involved in the transportation.
In Tartus, the Russian Navy received equipment and cargo. After that, convoys were formed, which went to the Basil al-Assad Airport. According to the Izvestia sources, Syria was of great help in this: the staff of Syria’s Mukhabarat, military intelligence, helped with the protection of the columns of equipment.
Time for the Aviation
On September 7, the Khmeimim air base received the first aircraft. On that day in Latakia a heavy An-124 military transport “Ruslan” landed, as well as the passenger Il-62M. The next day another Ruslan arrived at the base.
As noted by several sources familiar with the situation, by the time of the opening of the “air bridge” at the air base, parking lots for equipment, aircraft and helicopters had already been built. On Khmeimim, paved taxiways were extended and all necessary electronic systems for flight support were deployed.
The task of the military aircraft was the transportation of the personnel and Mi-24P combat helicopters and Mi-8 AMTSH. The “Crocodiles” (as the army jokingly calls the Mi-24) were to help the Marines to protect the perimeter of the base. However, their main job was to escort the taking-off and landing of aircraft. Protection by the Mi-24 reduced to null any attempts to shoot down the machines on the most dangerous segment of the flight.
On September 18 the air defence’s own systems began to operate on the Khmeimim base. On that day, four SU-30SM fighters arrived in Syria. They took over the functions of air defence. The machines were parked at the end of the runway. Since then, the rate of aircraft transfer has increase many times.
Already on September 21, in Latakia, in addition to four SU-30SM, twelve SU-24 front-line bombers, same for SU-25 attack aircraft, as well as four new multifunctional SU-34 bombers were deployed. By this time, a squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles “Outpost” was operating on the base. Special hangars-tents were built for their storage and maintenance.
Beginning of Operations
On the morning of September 30, it became known that earlier Bashar al-Assad wrote a letter to the Russian leader; the head of Syria asked Vladimir Putin to provide military support to the Republic. As Sergei Ivanov, who was then head of the presidential Executive Office, later stated, Russia decided to respond to the request based solely on national interests. He noted that the number of Russians and immigrants from the CIS countries, adjacent to the “Islamic State”, “is growing by leaps and bounds” and some of them have already returned to Russia. Therefore, he stressed, it is more expedient to act ahead of the curve and act on distant frontiers, and not to face this problem in Russia.
The Federation Council unanimously approved the use of the Russian Armed Forces in Syria. But the first sortie the Russian group was carried out only the next day.
It is noteworthy that as a full-time unit the military Khmeimim base was formed only at the end of 2015 (before that, the units stationed on its territory were listed as part of the group of Russian troops in Syria).
“Presently, Russia carried out practically all tasks in Syria”, said Vladislav Shurygin, military expert, to Izvestia. “IS is defeated. With the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the Syrian military liberated all areas of the country that were captured by the Islamic State. Remnants of al-Nusra are locked in Idlib province. Thousands of militants who could return to Russia were killed”.
In December 2017, summing up the results of the operation in Syria, Vladimir Putin said that during that time, the Russian military pilots made 24 thousand sorties, and 166 high-precision missile strikes were carried out on militant targets.