Russia’s elite special forces contingents are active on the battlefield in Syria, directing Russian warplanes, the commander of Russia’s forces in Syria admitted in an interview published Wednesday.
“I won’t conceal that there are also contingents of our special operations forces in Syria,” said Alexander Dvornikov, who serves as commander of Russian troops in Syria and recently received top military honors from President Vladimir Putin.
“They are carrying out additional reconnaissance of targets for Russian airstrikes, they direct aircraft to targets in far-flung areas and solve other special tasks,” he said in an interview to Rossiyskaya Gazeta state newspaper.
Moscow has said it has advisers active in Syria but Dvornikov made it clear the special forces officers were a separate group, while advisers trained both the Syrian army and other groups fighting alongside with regime forces, including the Syrian Kurds.
“Our military advisers worked and are working on all levels, including tactical,” he said.
Within a short time of launching the campaign on September 30, Russia “created a system of military advisers”, he said. “They successfully solved the issue concerning training of government forces, Kurds and other patriotic groups,” said Dvornikov.
Russia also delivered a whole array of equipment to the Syrian army, including “artillery systems, communication and surveillance equipment,” he said.
Dvornikov said he first arrived with his group to Syria in September, when “the situation was definitely not in favor of Damascus” as “militants” had controlled most of Homs, were on the offensive in Latakia and were preparing to take Aleppo.
Russian forces have “radically changed the situation” in five and a half months, he said.
With Syrian forces on the offensive, the taking of Palmyra under government control would “cut (Islamic State group) into two parts and open the road toward Raqqa and Deir El Zor, creating conditions for reaching the border to Iraq and taking it under control,” he said.
“The possible breakup of the country has been prevented,” he said.
Russia’s Putin ordered a surprise withdrawal of the main part of Russia’s forces in Syria last week, and arrival of several warplanes back to Russia was a highly publicized affair, with pilots hailed as victorious heroes and broadcast live.
However, it was clear that many Russian officers will remain in Syria. Dvornikov said that the remaining contingent will have to ensure the enforcement of current ceasefire and security of its bases in Tartus and Hmeimim.