SYRIA, May 24: New satellite imagery appears to reveal extensive damage to a strategically significant airbase in central Syria used by Russian forces after an attack by so-called Islamic State (IS).
Four helicopters and 20 lorries were destroyed in a series of fires inside the T4 base last week, the images from intelligence company Stratfor suggest. The cause of the fires is unconfirmed.
A pro-Kremlin website said the helicopters had been used by “used by both Russian and Syrian air forces”.
Russia has not officially commented on the incident.
A Russian opposition website quoted Syrian sources as saying “a large fire in the Syrian part of the T4 airbase spread to the fleet of vehicles, and after a fuel tank exploded four Russian helicopters nearby went up in flames”.
“The cause of the fire is being established,” it added.
A serious loss, by Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent.
Regardless of what triggered the fire that destroyed four Russian attack helicopters at their central Syrian base, this is the most serious loss for the Russians so far in their engagement against IS.
When the Kremlin deployed forces to Syria last September it was initially cautious about getting drawn into a ground war, wary of taking the mounting casualties that became a feature of its exhausting 10-year campaign in Afghanistan.
But after announcing a strategic withdrawal earlier this year Russia now seems to be getting ever more involved in supporting the forces of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
The destruction of so much Russian hardware at the T4 airbase, 40 miles (60km) from Palmyra, has revealed some of the extent of that involvement.
Palmyra is deep inside the Syrian desert, far from the coastal and border battlefields of north-west Syria, where the Russian air force has been most active.
The question now is whether Russia will react to this loss by replacing, increasing or scaling back its presence in Palmyra. Agency