After several incidents, in which 130mm shells fired by Syrian rebel groups, particularly the Al-Nusra Front, reached the center of the Russian Khmeimin military enclave outside Latakia, the general staff in Moscow decided to rush heavy artillery reinforcements to Syria. debkafile’s military sources report that Russia has transferred two types of heavy weapons systems by sea and by air to the front near Latakia during the past few days.
First, a body of three battalions of 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled howitzers was deployed at Khmeimin and has already started pounding rebel lines and command centers in the area. This heavy artillery system, capable of firing 152mm bombs at a rapid pace, is a veteran of Russia’s former campaigns against Islamic terrorist groups, especially in the Russian war against Islamic rebels in Chechnya in the 1990s.
The 2S19 Msta-S has a modified chassis of a T-80 tank and a diesel motor of a T-72. It is effective against fortifications as well as military and terrorist targets in wooded mountain areas, exactly the kind of geographical environment in which the rebels around Latakia area are operating.
This self-propelled howitzer is also expected to be effective in battles being fought in the Qalamoun mountains, in order to break the stalemate in which the combined Iranian, Syrian, Iraqi and Hizballah forces have been bogged down for months in their efforts to knock over rebel strongholds.
Another heavy weapons system that Russia brought to Syria in recent days is the TOS-1 220mm multiple rocket launcher. This system, which is mounted on the chassis of a T-72 tank, has been deployed near the embattled Syrian cities of Hama and Homs.
debkafile’s military sources point out that, even though Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu continue to claim that Russian forces will not be engaged in Syrian ground warfare,the heavy artillery systems brought to the country and their use in battle tell a different story. They show that Russian ground combat in Syria is expanding.