Russia confirms forward deployments in Syria
18 November 2015
A still from a televised Russian military briefing on 17 November 2015 shows a close-up of a map of the military situation around the Syrian towns of Sadad and Mahin (Mheen). It shows four Mi-24 and one Mi-8 helicopters at Al-Shayrat Air Base and the 5th unit (presumably battery) of the 120th ABR (presumably artillery brigade) located at a Syrian army base to the south. Source: Russia Today
The Russian Ministry of Defence has confirmed US claims that it has deployed helicopters and artillery deep into Syria.
The apparently unintentional confirmation came during a televised briefing on 17 November that included a close-up of a map showing the military situation around the towns of Sadad and Mahin in Homs province, where Russia is helping Syrian government forces repel an offensive by the Islamic State.
The deployments marked on the map included four Mi-24 attack helicopters and one Mi-8 utility helicopter at Al-Shayrat Air Base and a unit of the 120th Artillery Brigade deployed at a Syrian Arab Army (SAA) base just to the south with six 152 mm 2A65 Msta-B towed howitzers.
From that position, the guns could cover both the airbase and provide fire support to Syrian forces operating around Mahin, 25 km to the southeast.
A still from televised television footage broadcast on 11 November 2015 shows three Msta-B towed howitzers deployed in Syria, purportedly on the Tadmur front. (Federal Agency News)
Although some SAA units affiliated with the 18th Armoured Division were also marked on the map in a smaller typeface, the artillery unit is almost certainly Russian. Syria is not known to have a 120th brigade, while the Russian Army's 120st Artillery Brigade is based at Yurga and known to be equipped with Msta-B guns.
Msta-Bs were first spotted in Syria in September when Russia was building up its military presence in Syria, but it was unclear if the guns were operated by Russian personnel or had been donated to the SAA.
US officials said on 4 November that the Russian military had moved helicopters from its main base in Latakia province to Syria's Al-Shayrat, Hamah, and Tiyas airbases and said Russian artillery units are operating in the field.
The Russian map contradicted the US timeline, saying the helicopters did not arrive at Al-Shayrat until 6 November.
Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery obtained by IHS Jane's shows just three of the 16 helicopters Russia has deployed to Syria were present at Humaymim Air Base in Latakia province on 12 November, indicating many of them had been moved to other locations.