Two Russian pilots died near the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra when their helicopter was shot down by Islamic State (ISIS) group militants, bringing the total number of Russian troops killed in the Syrian conflict to 12, Moscow said.
Russia said a Syrian helicopter flown by Ryafagat Khabibulin and Yevgeni Dolgin “came under fire” from ISIS on Saturday and crashed.
The helicopter had been attacking advancing militants at the request of Damascus when it was shot down, according to the Russian defense ministry and the RT news agency.
A statement from Russia’s Ministry of Defense said: “The crew received a request from the Syrian command group to help defeat the advancing terrorists and fire for effect. The captain of the aircraft, Ryafagat Khabibulin, made the decision to attack.”
The militants were thrown back and the attack thwarted, the statement said, but the helicopter was shot down as it was turning to head back to the base.
The pilots “had used up all their ammunition and were on their way back when they came under the fire of terrorists and crashed,” the ministry said, adding: “The crew died.”
The helicopter was downed with the aid of an American TOW antitank missile system, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported, citing a source in the Russian military.
The ISIS group claimed responsibility for the attack, according to SITE monitoring group. Syria
SITE quoted an ISIS statement as saying: “Soldiers of the Caliphate downed a Russian assault helicopter when it attempted to attack their positions. This resulted in its destruction and killed those who were on board.”
At least 12 Russian soldiers have been killed since Moscow launched its military operation in Syria in September 2015.
In November, Turkish fighter planes shot down a Russian bomber on the Syrian-Turkish border, triggering a major crisis in bilateral relations. Syria
Russia is helping the Syrian government forces of President Bashar al-Assad against ISIS and other rebel groups, mainly supporting the Syrian army with airstrikes. Syria