The Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has “destroyed” Russian military equipment kept at a strategic Syrian airbase for Bashar al-Assad, according to recently released satellite images.
Also known as T4, Syria’s Tiyas base is located near the ancient city of Palmyra, which was recently retaken from ISIS by Russian-backed troops loyal to the Assad regime.
ISIS is believed to have repeatedly bombed the military facility, destroying four Russian helicopters and 20 supply trucks.
“The imagery strongly suggests that the explosions that destroyed approximately 20 vehicles and four Russian attack helicopters were not accidental but were related to Islamic State artillery fire,” reports Stratfor. “In addition, a Syrian MiG-25 aircraft that was likely already out of commission appears to have been damaged.”
“The Russian contribution to the Syrian government has been notable in defending loyalist positions and driving back not only rebel but also jihadist forces in the Syrian conflict,” it adds. “But it has come with a cost. Even as Russia continues to rely on aviation and artillery power to support government troops, its forces are not outside harm’s way.”
BBC, which first reported on the satellite images acquired by Stratfor, notes that it remains unclear whether any people were killed during the attack on the airbase.
Forces loyal to Syrian dictator Assad, backed by heavy Russian air support, pushed ISIS out of Palmyra in late March, marking one of the biggest losses for the jihadist group since it declared a caliphate across large swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.
The T4 airbase — considered one of the most important in the country — is located in Homs province near strategic routes that lead to ISIS’s de-facto capital of Raqqa, Damascus, and other critical areas in Syria.
“It houses two fixed-wing attack squadrons, one composed of Su-24 aircraft and the other of Su-22 aircraft. These [Russian] aircraft have carried out ground-attack missions across Syria, including the operations that eventually forced Islamic State militants out of Palmyra,” notes Stratfor. “In addition, the Syrian air force maintains six L-39 trainer aircraft and a few Mi-8/17 transport helicopters at the base.”
“In early May, the Islamic State launched an operation to capture the Shaer natural gas field northeast of the air base,” it explains. “After doing so, the group advanced south, seeking to cut off loyalist forces in Palmyra by severing a road that leads west from Palmyra, passes by the T4 air base, and continues toward Homs city.”
ISIS went on to shell the base despite failing to cut off the Assad troops for long.
“Russian forces have deployed a contingent of attack helicopters to the T4 air base at least since March 2016, supporting the loyalist offensive to retake Palmyra that same month,” points out Stratfor.