ISIS Zeroes in on Russian Military in Syria
Newly-released satellite images show the total destruction by the Islamic State of a Russian helicopter squadron at a strategically important Syrian air force base on May 14.
The Russian military tried to claim that the disaster was caused by an accidental fire, at Tiyas helicopter base, also known as T4. But ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources said that an analysis of the images of the burned-out helicopters showed that the aircraft were destroyed, one by one, by explosive devices. This meant that the ISIS explosives opratives infiltrated the base and planted the bombs. The images showed that explosive devices planted on buildings in the facility were detonated as well.
Since than, on Monday, May 23, 154 Syrians were killed and 300 injured in at least five suicide and two car bombings in the coastal cities of Tartous, where Russia has a naval base, and Jableh, near Russia’s Khmeimim airbase. It marked the first time for the two cities to be targeted during the Syrian civil war.
The attacks were designed to kill and wound as many civilians as possible, in order to parade ISIS's capacity to infiltrate and carry out attacks in the heart of a pro-regime area protected by Russian forces and elite Syrian troops.
ISIS also sought to demonstrate its professional skills and that it is in for a long haul. Witnesses reported that the attacks were carried out by well-trained teams with precise intelligence information and even assistance from several members of the civilian population.
The attackers succeeded in sneaking into the highly-protected areas, carrying out their mission and melting away without leaving a trace. The Russian military and the regime of President Bashar Assad were caught completely off guard.
Of course, the terrorists may have used bribe or taken advantage of lax vigilance at the checkpoints guarding the targeted sites.
These attacks nullified the formidable Russian military security measures at its bases in Syria. It set up an intelligence center at Khmeimim airbase to thwart terrorist attacks against its forces and facilities throughout the country. At least 3,000 of Russia’s Spetsnaz special forces troops are being deployed. Some deal with reconnaissance and direct combat operations, but the majority engage in “special security missions” to protect Russian bases and forces.
Also, networks of electronic sensors have been set up around Russian bases to give advance warning of any possible infiltration, and special helicopter units are on standby with orders to immediately halt any shelling of Russian bases by the Syrian rebels, ISIS, or the Nusra Front.
However, Moscow’s preventive measures and intelligence networks failed to stop the attacks on May 14 and May 23. It seems Russia’s military and intelligence are starting to show signs of exhaustion and weakness after nine months of intervention in Syria.