By Kasim Ileri
WASHINGTON (AA) – Russia has established an outpost in the vicinity of Syria’s Palmyra city, a U.S. defense official said Wednesday.
“In Palmyra, they have appeared to have established some sort of forward operating base, giving them a foothold for a more enduring presence,” U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters via a videoconference from Baghdad.
Warren said Russia is still building the base, noting it is too early to tell whether it will be there for long.
Russia has not really reduced its military power in the war-torn country since it began operations there late last year, according to the Warren.
“Their capabilities are largely the same, or almost identical, frankly,” he added.
Updating reporters on the war against Daesh, Warren said the militant group’s recent attacks in Baghdad that have killed hundreds of civilians appear to be a shift in tactics.
“Over the last six months, our enemy has suffered a string of defeats because the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] is proving increasingly effective,” Warren said, noting that Daesh has “chosen to revert to some of their terrorist roots.”
He also pointed out that the Iraqi government has not pulled forces from the battlefield to protect Baghdad.
“There was some discussion of it, but they changed their mind,” he added. “Our advice to the Iraqi government is to keep the pressure up.”
To date, Iraqi forces have seized about 45 percent of territory – 25,000 square kilometers (16,000 square miles) – from Daesh while local forces in Syria have captured 20 percent of the territory – 9,000 square kilometers (6,000 square miles) – militants have controlled there since 2014, Warren said.
And a mid-level Daesh commander, Abu Hamza, and his associate Abu Sufyan, who were allegedly responsible for the group’s chemical attacks in Iraq, were killed during an operation by Iraqi Forces to liberate a village in Abnar province, Warren said.
Based on intelligence, Warren said coalition aircraft struck a building where the militants were in.
He added that since the beginning of 2015, the U.S.-led coalition has killed at least 120 Daesh leaders.