Russia said to redeploy special-ops forces from Ukraine to Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flies to Moscow to thank Putin for Syria air strikes. It's the first foreign visit for Assad since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, in a surprise trip that underlines how Russia's become a major player in the Middle East. Screen shot from video.

Russia has redeployed several dozen special-operations troops stationed in Ukraine to Syria in recent weeks as the government shifts its focus to supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Last month, Russia launched airstrikes in support of the Syrian government. At the time, President Vladimir Putin said Russian troops won’t play a role in ground combat, but Russian military experts and officials say a small number of special-ops units are on the ground in Syria.

“The special forces were pulled out of Ukraine and sent to Syria,” a Russian Ministry of Defense official said. The official added that the troops had been serving in eastern Ukraine territories held by pro-Russian rebels.

The official described the special-ops troops as “akin to a Delta Force,” the U.S. Army’s elite counterterrorism unit.

According to FOX News, a senior Western official also said that there is a number of elite Russian forces from eastern Ukraine on the ground in Syria. A U.S. defense official said one of the roles of the special-ops troops is to provide coordination between Syrian troops and the Russian aircrafts conducting airstrikes in support of the Syrian ground offensive.

The Russian Defense Ministry declined to comment on the claims. A spokesperson for the ministry said that some of its military specialists are helping to train and advise Syrian troops on the Russian-made hardware they are using.

According to the Russian military official, the assets sent to Syria in recent weeks include the Zaslon unit, which is trained to protect diplomatic personnel and assets. The official also said that nearly two dozen Russian military intelligence officers are on site to work with Mr. Assad’s military intelligence.

Russia has a long-standing military relationship with Syria, and some Russian troops were already present in Syria before the air campaign began.

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