MOSCOW – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has vowed to prevent the escape of Islamic State fighters from their self-declared capital in Raqqa, under siege by US-backed forces, after thwarting two attempts by the jihadists to break through toward Syrian government-controlled territory.
Russian forces will “continue to take all necessary measures to stop Islamic State units from breaking out of Raqqa” in Syria toward the northwestern provinces of Homs and Hama, the Defence Ministry in Moscow said by email on Thursday. “The Russian Air Force in Syria has the means to destroy terrorists at any time.”
Russian planes killed more than 100 Islamic State fighters and destroyed 32 pick-up trucks mounted with high-calibre machine guns on May 25 as a column of extremists headed toward the ancient city of Palmyra, according to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.
Three more columns of jihadists tried to go in the same direction under cover of darkness during the night of May 29-30. Russian air strikes killed 80 fighters, 36 vehicles and 17 pick-up trucks mounted with heavy guns, the defence ministry said.
Russia’s attacks on Islamic State come as Kurdish-led forces backed by the US step up their offensive to capture Raqqa. Russian President Vladimir Putin says he’s seeking to build a joint anti-terrorist front with US counterpart Donald Trump, but the American leader’s pledge to work with Russia has run into resistance from both Democrats and his own Republican party.
Russia also fired four cruise missiles from a warship and submarine at Islamic State targets including fighters and heavy weaponry near Palmyra, the Defence Ministry announced on Wednesday, without disclosing losses suffered by the extremist Sunni group.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that his country has reliable information that the Kurdish-led forces reached an agreement with the besieged Islamic State fighters allowing them to leave the city in the direction of Palmyra.
The UNESCO world-heritage site of Palmyra has twice since 2015 fallen into the hands of Islamic State, which wreaked massive destruction on its Roman ruins.
By Henry Meyer – Bloomberg