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Russian advisers train a new battalion in the Syrian army

UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Under the hot sun, soldiers in camouflage uniforms fire rocket-propelled grenades to set off a storm of dust around them in training as a new “elite” battalion in the Syrian army supervised by Russian advisers.

In the town of Yafour, west of Damascus, soldiers make an attack, firing rockets and mortars, one of them sitting behind a machine-gun fired in this arid area, and others conducting demining or first aid.

The training took place on Tuesday in the presence of journalists from international media, including an AFP team, who are visiting Syria at the invitation of the Russian side.

On a platform overlooking the training ground, Russian and Syrian officers sit on the watch, soldiers lying on the ground shooting at targets in front of them, and two others moving a third soldier who appears to have been wounded as part of the training.

“As a result of the cooperation and training of Russian friends, we have noticed the high level of the fighter and gained new experience in dealing with all types of weapons,” Omar Mohammed, commander of the new Syrian battalion, wearing his “4th Division” badge, told reporters.

He explains that the new battalion was established on 1 August and that on the same day its training began to develop gradually.

Since the beginning of the Russian military intervention alongside Damascus in September 2015, government forces have reclaimed large areas, and now control more than 60 percent of the country after fierce battles fought mainly against the opposition factions as ISIS.

Moscow is talking about advisers on the ground in Syria, and its military police are deployed in former strongholds of opposition factions recaptured by Damascus, as well as checkpoints near Idlib province, which is controlled by HTS (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra).

Russian military experts have been very cautious about their activities in Syria, but this time they appeared in front of journalists, some masked, wearing sunglasses.

One of them, with the help of an Arabic translator, gives instructions to a group of soldiers who are trained on how to identify and defuse mines, while explaining the first aid to the wounded on the battlefield.

– To Idlib soon.

A soldier sits in a deep hole in the ground, pointing his weapon in front of him, hiding himself in the hole completely as a tank crosses over it. Nearby, a colleague is firing from behind a small wall, others jumping over the fires and climbing over wooden beams as shells fall around them.

After two months of individual training, the new battalion began training as a group and “at the level of secrecy,” said Omar Mohammed.

Commanders in the battalion do not rule out the possibility of sending them to Idlib province to participate in a military operation initiated by Damascus about five months ago with Russian air support, in which a truce agreement has been in force since the end of August.

The province and its environs are covered by an agreement signed by Russia and Turkey in Sochi in September 2018 that provided for the establishment of a demilitarized zone separating the positions of control of the regime forces and factions, from which jihadist groups would withdraw. However, its implementation has not been completed.

Damascus accuses Ankara of dragging its feet on implementing the agreement, and has repeatedly vowed to restore full Idlib.

On 16 September, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted in Ankara his Russian and Russian counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, at the fifth summit of its kind to discuss the situation in Syria and Idlib in particular.

The three leaders pledged to work together to avoid a worsening humanitarian crisis in and around Idlib, which is home to three million people.

“We are building our hopes on the political track, but if we do not achieve results, we will take the military path,” a Syrian battalion commander told reporters.

“The Idlib will be freed anyway and we will see it soon,” said Hassan Hassan, head of the political department in the Syrian army.

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