BEIRUT – Russian ground forces have engaged rebel fighters north of Latakia, according to a Kuwaiti daily with close access to Moscow’s military intervention in Syria.
“For the first time Russian infantry forces, supported by tanks and planes, have taken part in an assault on Syrian takfiri opposition forces between Latakia countryside and Idlib countryside,” Al-Rai reported on Monday morning.
“A strategic elevation was taken without any injuries in the ranks of the attacking forces,” a “Syrian leadership source” told the newspaper’s chief international correspondent, Elijah J. Magnier.
“The live military maneuver carried out by the Russian army, which is present on Syrian territory, required the involvement of an infantry battalion.”
The source said that this battalion’s involvement was preceded by “shelling with advanced 130 millimeter artillery and [strikes by] Sukhoi SU-25M planes on the target position, after which the Russian infantry [units] advanced and carried out a precise operation to seize the sensitive elevation.”
“The battle lasted for several hours, during which the strategic peak was cleansed and a number of deaths were inflicted upon the militants of various nationalities,” the report claimed, without elaborating further on where exactly the alleged clashes took place.
No rebel group has yet to issue any statements that it engaged Russian forces in the ongoing battles in the mountains north of Latakia.
According to the source, the Russian operation was carried out “without losses to the attacking forces.”
The report added that the Russian army was using Syria as a “training ground” to test its combat forces and military equipment “which have not [been used] in a real battle for many years.”
“This shows that the Russian army is [bringing] its forces to a level of high competence through clashes with the enemy as a first step to involving combat units in the near future.”
According to the source, Russia had asked permission “to test the readiness of its Infantry forces present in Syria.”
Al-Rai’s Magnier has written a number of articles in recent weeks on Russia’s bombardment campaign in Syria, claiming access to sources in both the Baghdad and Damascus operation rooms for the “4+1” military coalition of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.
Moscow has insisted that it will not conduct ground operations in Syria, however recent reports indicate the Russia has been deploying troops to prepare for combat operations.
On November 8, a group of Russian investigative journalists released a report showing pictures posted to social media by current and former Russian military personnel in the Hama and Aleppo provinces.
“Although we still don't have indisputable evidence of Russian servicemen taking a direct part in the fighting on the ground in Syria, we believe the situation observed contradicts the claims of Russian officials that Russian troops are not taking part and are not planning to take part in ground operations,” the Conflict Intelligence Team said in its report.
Two weeks later, footage on Russian state television of a defense ministry briefing showed a map that listed a Russian army artillery unit as being deployed outside the Homs province town of Mahin, which was seized by ISIS in early November.