Russia said Wednesday its forces and Syrian troops killed up to 850 jihadists in a counterattack in rebel-held northeastern Syria. The news came shortly after U.S.-led fighters said their separate, increasingly rival campaign against the de facto capital of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) was nearing its conclusion.
Both the Russia-backed Syrian military and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a mostly Kurdish formation of Arabs and ethnic minorities, are battling various insurgent and ultraconservative Islamist groups that have attempted to take control of Syria since 2011. While ISIS has recently been the primary target of the dual offensives, Russian personnel were reportedly ambushed and surrounded by militants of Hayat Tahreer al-Sham, formerly known as Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, near the northeastern city of Idlib. Three Russian special forces members were reportedly injured, but a top Russian general said the retaliation by his forces was devastating.
“Aircraft were delivering strikes on terrorists, the unit breaking the encirclement was supported by two Sukhoi Su-25 aircraft that attacked militants and their armored vehicles from extremely low altitudes. As a result, the encirclement was broken and the Russian troops entered the area occupied by the Syrian government forces,” Colonel General Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Main Operations Department at Russia’s General Staff, said, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.
“The steps that the Russian military command took together with the Syrian General Staff helped repel terrorists’ offensive and inflict significant damage on them,” he added.
Rudskoi went on to explain the operation in detail, saying it involved both Russian and Syrian special forces, as well as fighters from Russia’s North Caucasus region. In a span of 24 hours, the Russian…