Russia setting up base in Syria’s Homs province

Russian military said to be expanding its bases out of Latakia as Assad regime forces push eastwards into DAESH-held territory

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Russian warplanes have been flying over Syrian territory since September 30

Russia is reportedly expanding the Shayrat Air Base in Syria’s central Homes governorate so that it may accommodate fighter jets as part of its military campaign in the country.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) also revealed on Thursday that the Russians were now using the Al Tayas Air Base near the DAESH-held ancient city of Palmyra to host its helicopter sorties.

SOHR head Rami Abdel Rahman said Russia was "building new runways at the Shayrat airport and reinforcing its surroundings in order to use it soon for operations" in Homs.

Meanwhile, a military source wishing to remain anonymous told the Agence France Presse news agency that "the preparation phase for the Shayrat base is nearing its end.”

"A number of Russian advisors arrived in Shayrat weeks ago," the source added, further saying that the base "will begin being used by Russian forces before the end of this month."

The stationing of Russian aircraft and equipment in Homs signifies a resurgence of Bashar al Assad’s regime in the battle of reclaim territory seized by DAESH terrorists, as regime forces push eastwards in a bid to eventually retake Palmyra.

Palmyra, which lies about 130 kilometres east of Shayrat, was captured by DAESH in May.

"Syrian regime forces are about three kilometres from Palmyra and are advancing from the south and west with air cover by Russian helicopters," Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that the regime had already retaken the outskirts of the nearby village of Al-Qaryatain.

According to the military source, regime forces plan to make "an important advance" within 72 hours.

Having started its campaign of air strikes in Syria on Sept. 30, Russia had originally used the Hmeimim Air Base in the coastal governorate of Latakia, a stronghold for Assad’s Alawite minority sect.

However, Baghdad-based US military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday that the Russians are expanding out of Latakia and now have "facilities in about four, maybe five different spots in and around the Latakia area."

Although Russia initially stated that its campaign would primarily target DAESH positions, concern has been raised that air strikes are also targeting Syrian opposition groups fighting against the Assad regime, which has been making advances on the ground against the opposition since the campaign started.

It was previously reported that Russia was expanding its only Mediterranean naval base in the coast governorate of Tartus, south of Latakia, and was building an airstrip in Latakia’s Bassel al Assad Airport, making it the biggest foreign mission launched by Moscow since the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Concern has also been raised over the number of civilian deaths being caused by the Russian air strikes.

Russian air strikes targeted a truck in a humanitarian mission as it was delivering aid to Syria in the town of Azez in northwest Syria, the truck's driver said on Monday. The incident came a day after Russian jets bombed a bakery built by a Turkish humanitarian aid foundation in the city of Idlib, northwestern Syria.

The bakery was established 16 months ago by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) and produced about 65,000 loafs of bread per day, serving approximately 40,000 people, according to the charity.

To date, the war in Syria has killed an estimated quarter of a million people with most of the casualties occurring as a result of regime airstrikes and barrel bombings of civilian areas. As much as half the country’s population has also been displaced, both internally and externally.


TRTWorld and agencies