VORONEZH, March 15. /TASS/. The withdrawal of the main part of the Russian Aerospace Force grouping from Syria will be carried out as scheduled, Aerospace Force Commander Viktor Bondarev told journalists on Tuesday.
"It’s the decision of the supreme commander-in-chief and we will comply with it under the order within the established deadlines," Bondarev said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the first group of Russian aircraft arrived at an airbase outside Voronezh, Central Russia, from Syria. The Russian Aerospace Force commander met the pilots at the airfield personally.
Speaking of the operation in Syria that was launched by Russia on September 30, 2015, Bondarev said it was "a milestone event." "The newly formed branch (Aerospace Forces) of the Armed Forces has been conducting operations in Syria for five months. It was formed on August 1, 2015 and practically in 1.5 months embarked on its mission [in Syria]," the commander said.
According to him, the Russian pilots in Syria fulfilled their combat tasks in Syria "very carefully," after checking each target several times and only then delivering strikes. They have successfully accomplished their mission. "We have shown to the whole world that the training of Russian air pilots is at the highest level. Throughout their stay in Syria there was no bombing raid that missed the target," Bondarev said.
"We’ve shown the whole world the training of Russian pilots is at the highest level. Not a single bombing raid missed the target," Bondarev said at the special ceremony in honor of the first group of planes that returned home from Syria earlier in the day.
He also said that Russia’s Aerospace Forces lost one pilot - Oleg Peshkov, commander of the Su-24 bomber that was downed by a Turkish fighter. "Of course, it’s an irreparable loss, but after this our pilots doubled their efforts to revenge their colleague’s death," the commander said.
On Monday evening, the Kremlin press service released a statement that the Russian and Syrian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad, agreed to start withdrawing the main part of the Russian aviation task force from Syria because the Russian Aerospace Forces had fulfilled the fundamental tasks which had been assigned to them. Russia will leave an air flight control center in the Syrian territory that will monitor the observation of the Syrian ceasefire, the Kremlin said. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu ordered starting the Russian troops’ withdrawal as of March 15.
Russia’s Aerospace Force started delivering strikes in Syria at facilities of the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groups (both banned in Russia) on September 30, 2015. The air group initially comprised over 50 aircraft and helicopters, including Sukhoi Su-24M, Su-25SM and state-of-the-art Su-34 and Su35S aircraft. They were redeployed to the Hmeimim airbase in the province of Latakia. On October 7, Moscow also involved the Russian Navy in the military operation. Four missile ships of the Caspian Flotilla fired 26 Kalibr cruise missiles (NATO codename Sizzler) at militants’ facilities in Syria. Long-range strategic bombers also participated in the operation.