Russia to finish Syria pullout in ‘2-3 days’: General
MOSCOW – Agence France-Presse
REUTERS photoRussia will complete the withdrawal of the bulk of its forces from Syria before the end of the week, a top Russian general suggested in an interview published on March 17.
“I think this will be over very quickly. Within the timeframe determined by [the president] and the defense minister. Today or tomorrow... within two-three days we will complete the task,” Viktor Bondarev, the commander of the Russian Air Force, told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.
The interview was published in the newspaper March 17 but put online late March 16. It was not clear precisely when the general made his remarks.
Russian planes have been flying back home from Syria since March 15 after Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the surprise order to pull out most of Moscow’s forces in the war-torn country.
Russia is set to keep its air base near Latakia in Syria and the Tartus naval facility and it remains unclear what sort of presence exactly Moscow will leave behind.
Bondarev said that along with warplanes, Russia will pull out helicopters by loading them onto cargo planes.
Russia had been carrying out a campaign to bomb “terrorist” targets in Syria since Sept. 30, 2015 in a campaign Western powers said mainly went after rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to bolster his regime.
Bondarev said that between 500 and 700 people who participated in Moscow’s airstrike campaign in Syria are set to receive medals.
Putin was set to decorate pilots and personnel who returned from Syria in the Kremlin later March 17.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military said March 16 that it has seen no significant reduction in Russia’s combat power in Syria despite Putin’s surprise announcement.
Colonel Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in the region, said Russian intentions remain unclear.
“We have not seen a significant reduction, frankly, in their combat power. Particularly the ground combat power remain static, the air combat power has been slightly reduced, but that’s it,” he said.
Warren said there were some indications of small units packing up, and eight to 10 Russian aircraft have left the country.
The first warplanes arrived back in Russia on March 15 to a hero’s welcome.
But Warren said the US military remains uncertain about Moscow’s plans.
“There is a long list of possibilities and rather than getting into each one of them, we’re going to continue to focus on fighting ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant],” he said.
The White House, however, said March 15 that Moscow appeared to be moving forward on its commitment to withdraw forces and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he will travel to Russia next week for a meeting with Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
On March 16, Kerry told Lavrov that the need for progress toward political transition in Syria was urgent, and he emphasized the importance of maintaining the cessation of hostilities, the U.S. State Department said.
Kerry’s phone call with Lavrov followed a call between President Barack Obama and Putin and came ahead of Kerry’s trip to Moscow next week, the department said in a statement.