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Russia sets up helicopter base in northeast Syria

A file photo of Russian Mi-35 and Mi-24 attack helicopters

The Russian military says it has begun setting up a new combat helicopter and air defense base at a formerly US-controlled civilian airport in northeastern Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced the news in a statement, carried by the state-run TASS news agency, on Thursday, with the ministry’s Zvezda TV channel releasing footage of helicopter gunships arriving at the site.

The base is located in the northeastern city of Qamishli, which had been occupied by US troops until last month. Following a cross-border offensive launched by Turkey into the northeastern parts of the Arab country, the American forces left the city, and Syrian government troops re-established control over it.

The new Russian base is guarded by Pantsir surface-to-air missile systems; and three military helicopters, two Mi-35 gunships, and a Mi-8 transport helicopter have already been deployed there, with more to follow.

The footage also showed armored vehicles and ground support crews for the helicopters, as well as a weather station and a small medical clinic.

“This is the first group of Russian military helicopters here in northern Syria... It’s a historic moment. From this day onwards, our aviation group will operate permanently at Qamishli’s city airport,” said Pavel Remnev, Zvezda’s correspondent.

Turkish army forces launched the cross-border operation in Syria on October 9, in a declared attempt to create a 30-kilometer “safe zone” free from the presence of members of the so-called People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militant group.

Thirteen days into the operation, Turkey clinched a deal with Russia in Sochi to push the YPG militants — regarded by Ankara as a national security threat — south of the frontline, and launched joint patrols of the area with Russia.

According to Timur Khodzhayev, the head of the new Russian base, also referred to as an aviation commandant’s office, the helicopters there will be used to expand the area of Russia’s patrols in border areas.

“Military police, special equipment, vehicles, and fuel to ensure uninterrupted flights have also been allocated,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Russian jets have been carrying out air raids against targets belonging to the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group and other terror outfits inside Syria at the Damascus government’s formal request since September 2015.

The airstrikes significantly helped Syrian forces advance against anti-Damascus militants, who began a campaign of terror in Syria in 2011.

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