Two Russian military pilots killed in Syria helicopter crash

Two Russian military pilots killed in Syria helicopter crash
Their Mi-28N helicopter gunship crashed near Homs after completing its mission, according to Moscow's defence ministry.
3 min read
12 April, 2016
Russia has been carrying out airstrikes since 30 September supporting Syrian government forces [AFP]

Two Russian military pilots were killed when their helicopter crashed near the central Syrian city of Homs, Moscow's defence ministry said on Tuesday, adding that the aircraft had not been under fire.

"Two crew members died," the defence ministry said in a statement.

The crash of the Mi-28 attack helicopter happened in the early hours of Tuesday, the ministry said, adding the bodies had been recovered and brought to Russia's Hmeimim air base.

"According to a report from the crash site, the helicopter was not fired at," the Kremlin added, saying experts were looking into the reasons of the accident.

The crash takes Russia's official combat death toll in Syria to seven.

Moscow says that five Russian servicemen perished while on combat duty in Syria, including the pilot of a warplane shot down by Turkey and a special operations officer who called in an airstrike on himself after being surrounded by Islamic State group militants near Palmyra.

Another serviceman committed suicide while on duty in Syria, the defence ministry said.

The helicopter crash took place less than a month after President Vladimir Putin surprised the West by ordering the bulk of Russian forces to pull out of Syria after a five-and-half-month bombing campaign there.

Putin said that after some 9,000 bombing raids over Syria - targeting IS militants as well as moderate rebels - Moscow's military mission had been "on the whole" accomplished.

After the drawdown, Syrian forces - backed by Russian firepower - scored some of their most dramatic successes, reclaiming the world heritage site of Palmyra from IS.

Russia has been carrying out airstrikes since 30 September in support of Syrian government forces.

The air campaign has allowed Russia to test some of its latest weapons, including the Mi-28 helicopter.

Aleppo offensive

Meanwhile, a pro-government media outlet said that Syrian troops had launched an offensive to retake a strategic hilltop village south of Aleppo from insurgents, including al-Qaeda's local franchise.

Al-Manar TV said the attack on Tel al-Ais was launched on Tuesday. Al-Manar is run by Lebanon's Hizballah militant group, which is fighting alongside Syrian government forces.

The village overlooks a supply line connecting the capital, Damascus, to the northern city of Aleppo, parts of which have been held by insurgents since 2012.

The Syrian conflict has forced millions to flee
their homes since March 2011 [AFP]

A coalition of insurgent factions captured Tel al-Ais earlier this month after heavy fighting despite a US and Russian-brokered cease-fire, which excludes the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.

The offensive came as the UN peace envoy to Syria stressed the importance of the the upcoming round of negotiations in Geneva.

Staffan de Mistura said the next round of talks, due to resume on Wednesday, would be vital because they would focus on a political transition for Syria, where the fate of President Bashar al-Assad remains a major sticking point.

He added that the talks were "crucially important" in finding a solution to Syria's brutal five-year war.

"We hope and plan to make [the talks] constructive and we plan to make them concrete," de Mistura told reporters after meeting Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

The talks are aimed at ending a conflict that has killed more than 270,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes since March 2011.

But while the opposition insists Assad can play no role in a future transitional government, the regime says voters should decide his fate.

"We did raise and discuss the importance of protecting and maintaining and supporting the cessation of hostilities which is fragile but is there, and we need to make sure that it continues to be sustained even when there are incidents to be contained," the envoy said.