Russian defense minister happy with results of Syria mission

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s defense minister on Wednesday hailed the military’s performance in Syria, saying new Russian weapons have proven their worth in the conflict.

Sergei Shoigu told the Russian parliament that the military has tested 162 types of weapons in Syria, and only 10 of them have failed to meet expectations. He didn’t identify the weapons that performed badly.

Among the new weapons tested in combat for the first time in Syria were long-range cruise missiles carried by navy ships and strategic bombers.

Until recently, Russia lacked long-range cruise missiles equipped with conventional warheads similar to those in the U.S. arsenals.

Shoigu said Russian pilots have flown 1,760 combat missions in Syria since the launch of the air campaign in September 2015, killing more than 3,100 militants, including 26 warlords. He added that nearly 90 percent of all Russian military pilots have gained combat experience in the skies over Syria.

He said that a recent mission of the Russian aircraft carrier group near Syria’s shores was a success despite the loss of two carrier-borne fighters in accidents, adding that the navy gained valuable experience that would help prevent glitches in the future.

When Russia intervened in Syria, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was teetering on the brink of collapse. The Russian air support allowed Assad’s troops to win some key ground.

“The breakup of the Syrian state has been prevented, a civil war has been practically stopped,” Shoigu said. The minister appeared to refer to December’s truce brokered by Russia and Turkey, even though fighting has continued to rage.

He boasted about a massive effort to maintain the Syrian campaign, saying that it has seen 2,000 metric tons of cargo supplied to Syria daily by sea and air.

There have been no official data on the number of Russian troops in Syria, but the Russian media estimated it at over 4,000 based on voter rolls from last September’s Russian parliamentary elections.

Shoigu said that Russia has deployed two military police battalions in Syria, one to Aleppo and another to Wadi Barada near Damascus.

The minister said the military’s special forces have performed well in the conflict, targeting the militant leaders and helping pinpoint targets.

“Special operations forces have demonstrated their high efficiency,” he said. “They have played a key role in liquidating the terrorists, destroying critically important enemy facilities and directing airstrikes.”