After the downing of the Russian airliner over Sinai on Oct. 31, Moscow moved into positon to lead the offensive against the Islamic State in Syria. The Russian air force transferred a large number of assault helicopters out of its enclave in Latakia province over to two Syrian air bases east of Homs on the front lines against ISIS, DEBKAfile’s military sources report. From the T4 (Tiyas) and Shayrat Airbases, the Russian command will lead the battle against the Islamic State over Homs, a city of one million inhabitants and the hub of central-eastern Syria. As the Russians move over from air strikes to the offensive against ISIS, they know their combat helicopters are now exposed to being shot down.
Homs came under direct threat on Nov. 1, when Islamic State forces captured the village of Mahin south of the city, cutting down the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Syrian army and Hizballah forces standing in their path and inflicting heavy casualties. Control of Mahin opened the way for ISIS and Syrian rebels to reach the southern suburbs of Homs and seize control of the strategic M5 Highway linking the city to Damascus.
Another group of Russian combat helicopters is now deployed at Hama Military Airport to block off the offensive ISIS and the Nusra Front are preparing to launch in the northern Idlib Province. There too jihadist forces have made advances. On Nov. 5, they snatched from the Syrian army the strategic town of Morek which commands the routes from the north to central Syria.
According to intelligence reports from southern Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, more Russian combat helicopter units are under orders to stand ready for transfer to Syria. Moscow is evidently preparing to take over from the Iranians, the Syrians and Hizballah the heavy-lifting of the war to stop further ISIS advances. More helicopters are needed to support this offensive if it is to go forward on all fronts.
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