Russia says its warplanes have successfully hit positions held by the Daesh extremist group in Syria’s northern province of Raqqah, the stronghold of the militant outfit in the war-torn Arab country.
In a statement released on Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said that Tupolev Tu-95 jets had taken off from Russia and flown over Iran and Iraq to get to Syria’s Raqqah, where they targeted Daesh positions “using X-101 cruise missiles.”
The Russian warplanes successfully destroyed the militants’ bases and training camps as well as a Daesh command center, the statement said.
It further said that Sukhoi Su-30CM and Su-35 fighter jets based at the Hmeymim air base, in Syria’s Latakia Province, provided air cover for the Raqqah operation.
All Russian aircraft returned safely to their bases after the Friday mission, the statement added.
Russia launched its campaign against Daesh and other groups in Syria at the Damascus government’s request in September 2015.
In a separate development on Friday, the US Defense Department said that Daesh ringleaders were fleeing Raqqah amid advances by the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed militant group comprised mostly of Syrian Kurds.
“We are starting to see now that a lot of senior ISIS leaders, a lot of their bureaucrats… are beginning the process of leaving Raqqah,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis, using an English acronym for Daesh.
“They have definitely taken note of the fact that the end is near in Raqqah,” he said, describing the Daesh withdrawal as “very organized, orderly.”
Davis also said that Daesh now controls only one road that connects Raqqah to the city of Dayr al-Zawr and lies along the north bank of the Euphrates River.
Separately on Friday, Aleppo Governor Hussein Diab warned that Daesh had pumped large amounts of Euphrates’ water and was seeking to flood areas in eastern Aleppo, Syria’s official SANA news agency reported.
He said all public construction companies and concerned bodies were on alert to do everything necessary to mitigate possible damage from the Daesh sabotage.
Last December, the Syrian army managed to wrest full control over Aleppo, which had long been divided between government forces in the west and the militants in the east.