An Iranian news agency claimed on Thursday that General Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations wing, was behind the rescue of the Russian pilot downed in Syria.
Soleimani was reported lightly injured earlier this week near Aleppo.
After the pilot was downed by Turkey on Tuesday, “credible information was obtained that a number of special Turkish units had been sent to the scene to take the Russian pilot captive to blackmail Russia later,” the semi-official Fars News Agency reported, basing the claim on a report in the Persian-language version of the Russian Sputnik news agency. The Russian agency, in turn, quotes an unnamed Syrian officer.
“While the Russians were planning for another operations to free the pilot immediately,” said Fars, “General Soleimani contacted them and proposed them that a special task force unit be formed of Hezbollah’s special forces and Syrian commandos who have been trained by Iran and are fully familiar with the geographical situation of the region to be tasked with the ground operations and Russia provide them with air cover and satellite intelligence.”
The alleged operation to rescue the Russian pilot in Syria was carried out by eight Hezbollah fighters, 18 Syrian commandos and covered by Russian satellites and air force, the report continued. The team “saved the pilot after infiltrating 6km behind the enemy lines, killing the terrorists operating in there and destroying their hi-tech equipment,” it said.
“Soleimani promised them to return the Russian pilot safe and sound; a promise that was kept in the end, according to the Syrian officer,” the report said.
Moscow’s defense minister said Wednesday that Russian and Syrian special forces had freed the second pilot of a Russian warplane shot down by Turkey and he was now at a Russian air base in Syria. The first pilot was killed when fired at from the ground after the plane was hit.
“The operation ended successfully. The second pilot has been brought to our base. He is alive and well,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.
The Fars News Agency further reported that “General Soleimani is fully healthy and is actively commanding operations in the frontline of the war against terrorists.”
Soleimani was reported hurt in Syria on Sunday. A spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards, Rameza Sharif, said Tuesday that Soleimani was “in perfect health and full of energy.”
“He helps the Islamic resistance in Syria and Iraq,” Sharif added, according to SepahNews, the official site of the Revolutionary Guards.
Last month, a US official said some 2,000 Iranian or Iranian-backed forces were participating in the regime’s Aleppo operations.
Iran has not officially acknowledged sending troops to Syria, but says it has “advisers” on the ground assisting regime forces.
Iran-backed Hezbollah also acknowledges its forces are fighting on the ground, and the presence of Iranian, Iraqi and Afghan “volunteers” has been documented.