CNN reports: Last week the Russian military brought more than a hundred international journalists, including our CNN crew, to Palmyra. The trip was orchestrated to showcase Moscow’s role in liberating the ancient heritage site but it also said a lot about the Russian army’s capabilities and the scale of their assets in Syria.
Ferrying that many people from Russia’s air base in Latakia halfway across a war-torn country — to a place that until recently was a combat zone — is a massive logistical and security operation.
The convoy involved five buses full of journalists, at least eight armored vehicles with heavy machine guns, two fighting vehicles and the constant presence of two attack helicopters hovering overhead. During the more than six-hour journey, choppers were switched out several times and the vehicles were shadowed by a variety of gunships, including Mi-28, KA-52, and the modernized Mi-35s. As we made our way across Syria we passed several bases with Russian helicopters along the Western coastline, near Homs and in the Palmyra area.
Russia deployed dozens of strike aircraft and jet fighters to Syria at the end of 2015, bombing in support of Syrian president Bashar al Assad’s forces. But Moscow also appears to have built up substantial ground forces in various locations in Syria. There are no reliable numbers on Russian troop levels in the country but it appeared to us that there were at least several thousand troops on the ground along with modern weaponry and infrastructure. [Continue reading…]