MOSCOW — Russia's special forces have helped direct air raids in Syria and Russian military advisers have played a key role in the Syrian army's offensive, a top Russian military officer said.
Col. Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, who commanded the Russian military in Syria, said in an interview with the government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta released Wednesday that special forces soldiers have conducted intelligence to pinpoint targets for Russian airstrikes in Syria. He said they also have helped direct aircraft during their missions and carried out other unspecified tasks.
Dvornikov didn't say how many special forces soldiers have been deployed to Syria.
President Vladimir Putin last week ordered a pullout of some Russian warplanes from Syria, but said that strikes against the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front will continue. Those groups have been excluded from a Russian- and U.S.-brokered cease-fire that began on Feb. 27 and has largely held.
Russian warplanes have conducted more than 9,000 missions in Syria since the air campaign began on Sept. 30, helping Syrian President Bashar Assad's military to reverse the tide of war and make some key advances.
Dvornikov said that the ongoing Syrian army offensive on the historic town of Palmyra will "cut the Islamic State group of forces in two and open the road to Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, and create conditions for reaching the border with Iraq and establishing control over it."
He named the Syrian advances around Aleppo, taking control of some major oilfields and establishing firm control over key highways among other Damascus' military successes.
Dvornikov said that along with air cover, Russia also provided the Syrian military with artillery systems, intelligence and communications means and other gear and deployed its military advisers to direct the Syrian operations.
"Those officers have helped Syrian colleagues in planning and conducting military action against terrorists and also helped them learn how to handle Russian weapons," he said.
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