Putin makes triumphant visit to Syria, meets Assad, orders pullback

President Assad tells Russian leader Syrian people will never forget Russia’s help in driving Islamic State from country

Vladimir Putin has declared mission accomplished for Russian forces in the fight against Islamic State in Syria, as he made a surprise visit to the Russian airbase in the country, the guardian reported.

“Friends, the motherland is waiting for you,” Putin told the Russian air force detachment based at the Khmeimim airbase during his visit on Monday morning. “You are coming back home with victory.”

Earlier this month, the head of the Russian army said Syria had been entirely liberated from ISIS forces.

Putin ordered “a significant part” of Russia’s military contingent in Syria to start withdrawing on Monday, saying Moscow and Damascus had achieved their mission of destroying Islamic State (IS) in just over two years.

Russian air power, combined with Syrian forces and Iran-backed Shia militias on the ground, has decisively shifted the balance of power in the long Syrian civil war.

President Bashar al-Assad was on the brink of defeat when Russia entered the conflict in 2015. With sustained airstrikes on both moderate rebel groups and extremists, Moscow has helped Assad win back control of much of the country.

The Russian and Syrian air forces were accused of brutal bombing tactics, including deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure, which the Russian military has always denied.

Assad’s departure from office, long demanded by western powers, is no longer on the immediate agenda. Russia hopes to convene a peace conference that would cement its status as a new power broker in the Middle East, bypassing the US.

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