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New mystery emerges in attack on Russian military base in Syria

A load of ammunition is prepared to be loaded on Russian war planes at Hemeimeem Air Base, Syria, on Dec. 18, 2015.

New mystery emerges in attack on Russian military base in Syria

The Washington Post | January 10, 2018

BEIRUT — A series of mysterious attacks against the main Russian military base in Syria, including one conducted by a swarm of armed miniature drones, has exposed Russia's continued vulnerability in the country despite recent claims of victory by President Vladimir Putin.

The attacks have also spurred a flurry of questions over who may be responsible for what amounts to the biggest military challenge yet to Russia's role in Syria, just when Moscow is seeking to wind its presence down.

In the most recent and unusual of the attacks, more than a dozen armed drones descended from an unknown location in the early hours of Saturday morning onto Russia's vast Hemeimeem air base in northwestern Latakia province, the headquarters of Russia's military operations in Syria.

Russia said that it shot down some of the 13 drones, used electronic countermeasures to safely bring down the others, and that no serious damage was caused.

The drone attack, however, came less than a week after two Russian servicemen were killed in a sustained mortar assault on the same base, which appears to have caused some damage to Russian military assets.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied a report in the Russian Kommersant publication that seven warplanes were put out of action in the mortar attack, including two of its premier Su-35 fighter jets and four Su-24 attack aircraft, losses that would represent the worst single day for the Russian air force in decades. A Russian journalist posted photographs of damage that suggested at least some planes had been hit.

Taken together, the drone and mortar attacks appear to represent the most concerted assault on the Russian headquarters in Syria since the military intervention in September 2015, which broadly succeeded in its goal of shoring up President Bashar Assad's fight to suppress the seven-year-old rebellion against his rule. There was also a smaller drone attack on Russia's long-standing naval base at the Mediterranean port of Tartus at the same time as the Hemeimeem attack, the Defense Ministry said, and a smaller mortar attack against Hemeimeem was reported by Syrian media Dec. 27.


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